Plant-Based Diet: A Prescription for Health in 2015

Posted on by Neal Barnard, MD, FACC

vegetables+fruitsEach week, a new study shows the health benefits of plant-based eating patterns. People who follow vegetarian and vegan diets have a strong measure of protection against weight problems, heart disease, diabetes, and many other health issues that trouble their meat-eating friends. In its recent report, the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee listed plant-based diets as one of the three healthful eating patterns for Americans. And the good news is it’s simple: by sticking to a diet that centers around four food groups – whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes – you can easily maintain a healthful weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and reduce the risk for chronic disease. As the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans move from concept to consumer, even more people will begin to put the latest science into everyday practice. Here’s an inside look at how a plant-based prescription works. Fill Up with Fiber Nutrition Rx: Aim for 40 grams of fiber a day. There is no fiber in animal products, but there is plenty in foods from plant sources. And fiber has effectively no calories, so it fills you up without filling you out. In addition to weight loss, fiber helps to naturally lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and remove toxic carcinogens from the body, reducing the risk of certain forms of cancer. A recent meta-analysis shows people who adopt a vegetarian diet lose an average of 10 pounds without counting calories, measuring portions, or curbing intake of carbohydrates. And the more weight they have to lose, the more they do lose. It’s easy to understand why: most Americans only get around 10 to 15 grams of fiber each day. By reaching for a leafy green salad and bowl of black bean chili, you can easily consume 15 to 20 grams of fiber in just one meal. You’ll see the benefits on the scale. Cut Back on Fat Nutrition Rx: Follow a low-fat diet to boost metabolism and restore insulin function. Removing animal products, including meat, cheese, fish, and eggs, is the first step to curbing overall fat and calorie intake. Limiting plant-based sources of fats – vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds – is the second step. This makes it easy to reach and maintain a healthful weight. When people with type 2 diabetes limit total fat intake to 10 percent of overall calories, their insulin starts to function again and their after-meal metabolism speeds up by an average of 16% after every meal. We see A1C, or blood sugar levels, fall anywhere from .4 to 1.2 points, an amount comparable to today’s leading diabetes medications. Go for the Green (and Colorful) Foods Nutrition Rx: Eat a wide variety of colors from the nutrition rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, white, blue, purple and brown. We’re attracted to bright, colorful foods for good reason: they provide a bounty of antioxidants to help our bodies function optimally. One cup of sliced red pepper sticks, cooked broccoli, or orange wedges, the equivalent of one large orange, each provide more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin C for adults and children over the age of 4. Studies show that by reaching for plant-based fare, people boost their nutrient profiles and quality of life – measured by physical health outcomes and by the alleviation of depression, anxiety and fatigue. If you’re looking to improve your health, try test-driving a plant-based vegan diet for 21 days. It’s a perfect time period, since it’s short enough to follow but long enough to see results. Photo from here, with thanks.