Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular. Sales of vegan foods grew ten times faster than any other food product last year, and many consumers are cutting down their intake of meat and dairy for health and environmental reasons?
So how effective is a plant-based diet?
According to a recent study, there are plenty of benefits to switching to plant-based diets. However, there are fears that they could also lack essential nutrients that are needed for healthy brain functioning.
The researchers say that the biggest issues can be a lack of choline. This nutrient is vital for brain development, and is especially important for infants, and women who are breastfeeding or pregnant, who often take supplements.
Choline is produced naturally in the body. But we still need supplements through food in order to get the full benefits. The best dietary sources are eggs, dairy products, pork, beef, chicken, and salmon.
It can also be found in some plant options, like beans and nuts, but at lower levels. There are concerns that becoming deficient in choline could have long-term health implications.
Nutritional consultant, Dr. Emma Derbyshire, a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and author of the study says: “This is…concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets.”
Plant-based diets do have health benefits, but people need to be aware of all the risks. Going forward, the researchers suggest that consumers can find other ways to supplement their diets with choline.
Dr Derbyshire continued: “More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet, and how to achieve this. If choline is not obtained in the levels needed from dietary sources per se then supplementation strategies will be required, especially in relation to key stages of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, when choline intakes are critical to infant development.”