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Plant-based Diets: What the Research Says

A close up of Asian green curry with coconut milk in a pan
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Have you cut back on how much meat you eat? Are you considering switching to a more plant-based diet?

If so, you’re part of a worldwide trend. There’s growing interest in many countries in plant-based diets that skip — or at least scale back — meat and other animal products.

The reasons for rethinking a meat-centric diet are many, including environmental and animal welfare concerns, as well as better health.

The Mediterranean diet, for example, which emphasizes plant foods and includes only a small amount of meat, has been linked to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It is also linked to a slower rate of mental decline and a reduced risk of cognitive impairment in older adults, recent studies show.

But is a completely meat-free diet really the best as you age?

A large 2020 British study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, suggests there may be a drawback to consider: Compared with meat eaters, vegans and vegetarians may be at a higher risk for bone fractures, especially hip fractures.

Researchers, who analyzed more than 17 years of data from nearly 55,000 men and women enrolled in the long-running EPIC-Oxford study, found that compared with meat eaters, vegans — who don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs — may face a 43 percent higher risk for bone fractures.

Vegans, along with vegetarians (who eat dairy and eggs but not meat or fish) and pescatarians (who eat fish but not meat), were also at a higher risk for hip fractures, with vegans at the highest risk, possibly because they ate less calcium and protein, which has been linked to poorer bone health, researchers said.

Despite this, a healthy vegetarian diet “actually offers many advantages to bone health,” nutritional epidemiologist Katherine Tucker, director of the Center for Population Health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said in an email. The key is that vegan and vegetarian diets require close attention to ensure the body gets key nutrients like calcium, protein and vitamin B12.

Find out more about plant-based diets and your health in the full article, Plant-based Diets: What the Research Says.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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