Alicia Silverstone says a vegan diet prevents illness, but is she right?
Actor Alicia Silverstone recently said that her seven-year-old son has largely avoided illness thanks to his plant-based diet.
At a Good Housekeeping summit in New York City earlier in November, Silverstone said that her son Bear Blu doesn’t need to take medication because he doesn’t get sick.
“He’s never had to take medicine in his life,” the 42-year-old said. “He can get sniffles and a runny nose but he’s not down, he still goes to school. Two times in his life has he been like, ‘Mommy I don’t feel good,’ and it was only for a few hours and he was back running around.”
The Clueless star is a big advocate of veganism, and has stuck to a plant-based diet since she was in her early 20s. Silverstone is vocal about keeping her son on a vegan diet, too.
But does a plant-based diet actually help prevent illness? According to experts, yes and no.
“A plant-based diet is healthy and it has been shown to decrease people’s risks of certain illnesses, but [Silverstone’s] claim is outrageous,” Abby Langer, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, told Global News.
“Certainly antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can help keep us well, but not in the way or to the extent that she’s claiming.”
Plant-based diets can help with certain illness
Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and research shows they can be helpful for those living with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and lipid disorders.
But Langer said there’s no evidence to suggest that a vegan diet would prevent anyone from catching things like the common cold, strep throat, or a bacterial infection.
There is a relationship, however, between what you eat and your immune system, Langer said. “I do believe that a diet high in ultra-processed food and saturated fats can lower your immune system and increase your risk of getting certain illnesses.”
This can be combated by eating a healthier diet rich in whole foods — which doesn’t necessarily need to be plant-based.
Not all plant-based diets are equal
While research does suggest there are many benefits to a plant-based diet, it’s important to understand that just because something is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t always make it healthier.
Many meat alternatives, like veggie burgers, can be heavily processed and made with soy and gluten as opposed to whole foods.
The key is to ensure your diet is balanced, and try to eat as much unprocessed food as possible. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, it’s also important to get enough protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. A diet lacking in vitamins and nutrients can negatively affect your well-being.
While there isn’t a guarantee that a certain diet can prevent illness, Langer said that eating healthier does have a positive effect on your overall well-being.
“It’s hard to get good research on people’s diets, especially over the long-term, because no one is sleeping in the lab for 24 years,” she said.
“But we do know that there’s a lot of research that’s been done, and a plant-based diet does appear to positively impact our health in many ways, including reducing the risk of disease.”
With a file from Arti Patel
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