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Several million Americans have abandoned red meat and poultry in favor of a predominantly plant-based diet. One reason some are making the switch is evidence of the health perks from going vegetarian or vegan, reports the May 2014 Harvard Women's Health Watch.
"There's certainly some research on the benefits of the vegetarian diet," says Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. It can help lower or control weight, reduce the chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and possibly lead to a longer, healthier life.
There are a variety of plant-based diets, named largely for what they include or exclude:
Although the low-carbohydrate diet mania has died down, science is just now catching up with this concept. Several large randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of medical research — have shown that low-carb diets are as good as low-fat diets for losing weight, and may even be better. But how do they fare for long-term health?
Most low-carb diets deliver more protein and fat than "regular" or low-fat diets. We've come to learn that there are good and not-so-good fats and carbohydrates. Could the same hold true for protein sources? If so, then the type of protein that dominates a diet can influence health as much as the kinds and amounts of carbohydrates or fats.
It's highly unlikely that anyone will ever launch a 10- to 15-year-long randomized trial to explore the effects of diet on heart disease, cancer, or longevity. The next best thing would be to look at what many people chose to eat over many years, and see how their diets affected their health.
I was surprised to see an ad in one of my cooking magazines promoting palm oil as a healthy fat. I thought it was supposed to be really bad for you. What's the story?
Doctors and nutritionists have long warned of the dangers of saturated and trans fats. But unsaturated fats are beneficial, particularly if eaten in place of carbohydrates.
I read that spirulina is the next wonder vitamin. What can you tell me about it?
If you are trying to watch your salt intake, pay careful attention to the amount of salt in prepared and processed foods. But not everyone benefits from eating less salt.
While flaxseed oil may seem like a good way to get beneficial omega-3 fats, its healthful effects are not as powerful as they appear. Eating fish is still the best way to get omega-3s.
Do you have rumbling abdominal sounds after eating milk products?
Do you get abdominal cramps, bloating, or diarrhea after eating milk products?
Can you tolerate small amounts of milk?
Do your symptoms improve when you eliminate milk products from your diet?
Careful abdominal exam
Trial of elimination of milk products from the diet
Hydrogen breath test
Lactose tolerance test