Eating one or two meat-free meals a week halves the risk of becoming obese, research suggests.
The findings suggest the millions of people in Britain adopting a so-called ‘flexitarian’ diet – becoming vegetarian a few days a week – are significantly benefiting their health.
The research, which involved tracking 16,000 people over a decade, found that those who ate just 25 per cent less meat every week were nearly half as likely to become obese.
The team, from the University of Navarra in Spain, found eating just 380g (13 ounces) less of meat a week – the equivalent of two large chicken breasts – was linked to a reduction in the risk of obesity by 43 per cent.
Those who ate less meat also doubled their intake of fruit and vegetables.
Eating one or two meat-free meals a week halves the risk of becoming obese, researchers say
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and even a glass of wine a day, may protect the brain’s grey matter, which declines as we age.
A study published in January of pensioners with this diet found their brain shrinkage, associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s, was half of others their age.
The benefits are believed to come from the antioxidants found in vegetables, olive oil and even the glass of red every day, which forms part of the Mediterranean diet.
These are thought to reduce damage in the brain from oxidation, which leads to neural degeneration.
Lead author Dr Michelle Luciano, from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory.
‘This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.’
And they were far more likely to adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet – eating more nuts, pulses, wholegrains and olive oil.
The study, presented yesterday at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal, examined data for 16,181 people who were not obese at the start of the research, and who were scored according to their dietary habits.
Over the course of ten years, 584 people became obese.
Professor Maira Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra in Spain, who presented the study, said plant-based foods contained more fibre and helped people feel fuller for longer.
She added: ‘There is also a good variety of foods on the plant-based diet.’
The research also showed that even those who stuck less closely to a diet high in fruit and vegetables still had a lower risk of obesity compared to those eating the most meat, eggs, dairy and fat.
Prof Bes-Rastrollo added: ‘Our study suggests that plant-based diets are associated with substantially lower risk of developing obesity.
‘This supports current recommendations to shift to diets rich in plant foods, with lower intake of animal foods.’
A Mediterranean diet of pulses, salads and olive oil cuts helps people to feel fuller for longer
Research suggests more and more people in Britain are ditching meat at least once a week.
The flexitarian diet – also known as a ‘pro-vegetarian’ diet – does not involve cutting back on fish.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘Clearly you shouldn’t cut out unprocessed food such as fresh meat, diary or fish entirely but, as the research student suggests, keep them in check.
‘Our ancestors found cabbage and cauliflower much easier to catch than cows, and thrived on the diet.’