Diets rich in plant foods are increasingly recommended to lower the risk of cardiometabolic diseases because of strong evidence that fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are protective. Although some animal products, such as unprocessed lean red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, are recommended in dietary patterns to prevent cardiometabolic diseases, many health professionals advocate for exclusively plant-based dietary patterns. The aim of this article was to review recent evidence on the relative contributions of plant-based foods and animal products to a healthy dietary pattern. Secondary aims were to discuss current consumption patterns and adherence to dietary recommendations. Epidemiologic evidence suggests that a higher intake of plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disease, whereas a higher meat intake increases the risk of cardiometabolic disease and the replacement of small quantities of animal protein with plant protein is associated with lower risk. Randomized controlled studies show that nutrient-dense diets containing animal protein, including some unprocessed lean meats, improve cardiovascular disease risk factors. Therefore, it is likely that the consumption of animal products, at recommended amounts, in the context of a dietary pattern that meets recommendations for fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, and does not exceed recommendations for added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, may not increase cardiometabolic risk. Currently, adherence to these recommendations is suboptimal. Therefore, rather than debating the merits of healthy dietary patterns that are exclusively plant-based or that include animal sources in recommended amounts, the focus should be on improving overall eating patterns to align with dietary guidelines. Registered Dietitian/Nutritionists (RDNs) have the requisite nutrition expertise to facilitate change at the individual and population levels to promote adherence to healthy dietary patterns. Importantly, advocacy activities are urgently needed to create a healthier food environment, and all health professionals, including RDNs, must play a role.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Food Science
- Nutrition and Dietetics