Despite the confusion surrounding diet culture and nutrition, there is only one diet that comprehensively addresses the reversal of chronic disease: a whole-food, plant-based diet. Decades of scientific research show that it prevents, treats, and reverses chronic disease more profoundly than any pill on the market.
A plant-based diet is nothing like your typical weight loss diet. Yes, people tend to shed excess weight within the first few months of adopting this style of eating, but weight loss is just a positive side-effect. The benefits of eating this way extend further than you could imagine.
People who adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet can expect to:
Reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke, as well as reverse heart disease.
Prevent and reverse type II diabetes.
Dramatically reduce their risk of cancer.
Avoid dementia later on in life.
Maintain a healthy weight without implementing calorie restriction.
Reduce and relieve chronic intestinal distress.
Effectively treat erectile dysfunction.
Discover a level of satisfaction in eating that they never knew was possible.
It’s clear that the choice to live free of chronic disease is in your hands (and on your fork).
You may have heard of popular variations of plant-based eating, including the Mediterranean and Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets , which heavily promote vegetables, fruits, legumes, tubers, and whole grains (and with a small emphasis on animal products).
Plant-based Diets Help You Live a Long Life
Even if you don’t suffer from chronic health conditions, a plant-based diet can add years, even decades, to your lifespan. The communities with the most centenarians (people living over 100 years of age) in the world eat a primarily plant-based diet.
Why Aren't Plant-based Diets Recommended More Often?
Most medical problems we face in developed countries are a result of poor nutrition and lifestyle habits, specifically the Standard American Diet (SAD). SAD has resulted in a sick nation, of which 1 in 3 people die of heart disease and 40% of adults are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Yet, most medical professionals do not recommend the only diet that has been shown to effectively treat modern disease. Why is that?
The answer lies in the lack of nutrition education that medical professionals receive during schooling. Most doctors receive less than 25 hours of nutrition instruction in their 6 to 10 years of medical school training. Doctors and other health professionals are simply unaware that what people eat on a daily basis is the largest determining factor when it comes to developing chronic diseases.
Luckily, the potential of plant-based diets is catching on in the healthcare arena. Institutions and medical facilities are recognizing that plant-based diets could save billions of dollars in health care costs. Most notably, states like New York and California require all hospitals to offer plant-based meals and snacks on their menu. In addition, the largest healthcare organization in the U.S., Kaiser Permanente, promotes whole, plant foods for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. And the revolution has just begin.
Why Go Plant-based If You Have Heart Disease?
Can you really prevent heart disease by eating more plants? The answer is a resounding YES. In fact, a plant-based diet is the ONLY one proven - through research - to reverse heart disease.
Pioneering studies by Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and others have shown that eating only plants improves cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis, which occurs when arteries become narrowed or blocked due to a build-up of a cholesterol-containing substance called plaque.
Dr. Ornish’s study tested the effects of a plant-based diet on patients with moderate to severe heart disease. After just one month, blood flow to the heart improved and chest pain diminished. After one year, severely blocked arteries opened, demonstrating a clear reversal of their condition. After 30 years, his patients are still thriving, heart attack free. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn published similar results with the same patient population.
Whole plant foods contain no dietary cholesterol, are low in saturated fat, and abundant in fiber. Alternatively, SAD, which contains meat, dairy, and eggs, are packed with cholesterol and saturated fat, which are strongly associated with atherosclerotic build-up.
Plant-based diets are effective in improving risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation. Here are some key takeaways from large clinical trials and prospective studies that tested plant-based diets against heart disease:
Populations with a plant-based lifestyle are at lower risk for developing heart disease; vegetarians have a 24% lower risk of heart disease.
In the Lifestyle Heart Trial, researchers found that 82% of subjects with heart disease who followed a plant-based diet had some regression of atherosclerosis, the plaque that builds up in arteries.
In the Lyon Diet Heart Study, subjects with heart disease who consumed a plant-based lifestyle saw a 73% decrease in coronary events and a 70% decrease in all-cause mortality.
Why Go Plant-based If You Have Diabetes?
A plant-based diet has proven to be most powerful in preventing, managing and reversing type II diabetes. In a head to head trial comparing participants who adopted a plant-based diet to those on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet, the participants on a plant-based diet had better health outcomes, including lower blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides and increased weight loss. The kicker was that the plant-based group did not restrict calories or count carbohydrates; they ate all the whole, plant foods they wanted!
Emerging research explains why a plant-based diet is so effective for diabetes: improved beta cell function. Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin, a hormone that signals cells to take in glucose. As type II diabetes progresses, beta cells lose their ability to produce insulin and glucose stays in the blood. Eating mostly (or all) plants has been shown to completely reverse the damage to beta cells and improve its function.
Weight loss has also proven effective in stabilizing blood glucose levels. Losing weight helps the body’s ability to effectively respond to insulin resistance. Perhaps, that’s why plant-based diets work so well. Because plant foods contain tons of fiber and are not particularly calorie dense, it’s easy to lose a significant amount of weight and still feel satiated.
Don’t be alarmed if, when you turn to plant foods, your blood glucose level runs too low. Your cells will quickly become more sensitive to insulin and you’ll need to adjust your medication with the help of your doctor.
Why Go Plant-based If You Have a History
The same diet that has been proven to help prevent heart disease and diabetes just so happens to prevent cancer. Plant-based diets are protective against cancer due to the special, damage-preventing compounds found only in plants, known as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are helpful in both preventing and fighting cancer, as they strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, prevent DNA damage and help DNA repair, and slow cancer cell growth. The most potent, cancer-fighting foods include broccoli, flax seeds, tomatoes and soy.
Additionally, plants are a rich source of fiber. Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is the part of plant foods your body can't digest or absorb. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine and colon and out of your body. Eating fiber proves beneficial in that it reduces cholesterol levels, stabilizes blood glucose levels, normalizes bowel movements and reduces cancer risk. Women who eat fiber-rich foods are 25% less likely to get breast cancer later in life, a study found (Farvid et al., 2015).. Other research finds that an additional 10 grams of daily fiber can lower the risk of colorectal cancer by 10% (Ma et al., 2015).
While some foods help prevent cancer, other foods are strongly linked to high cancer risk. There is strong evidence that some animal products, such as processed meat and red meat increase the risk of cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) and The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies processed meat as a type 1 carcinogen, which is a substance that is strongly linked to cancer. Processed meats include but aren’t limited to hot dogs, bacon, ham, deli slices and sausages. Red meat is classified as a type 2 carcinogen, which is a substance that is likely cancer causing. Studies conclude that no level of processed meat and red meat consumption is considered safe.
Our Food Choices Matter For The Planet
Our food choices not only determine the state of our health, but they also affect the health of the planet. What we eat on a daily basis is the single most important factor when it comes to protecting the planet. This may come as a shock because the food on our plate is rarely addressed in the climate change conversation, especially since our first associations are fossil fuels and transportation.. Nevertheless, transforming our diet is the single, most effective action we can take to combat climate change.
SAD, which is rich in animal-based foods, comes with a steep climate price. The most conservative data suggests that animal agriculture accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a larger contributor than the transportation system combined. Beef and dairy are considered to be the most detrimental to the planet, generating and releasing the gas, methane - which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - into the atmosphere. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Not only is animal agriculture one of the largest contributors to climate change, the industry's impact is a systemic risk: animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, habitat destruction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and rainforest destruction.
On average, plants require less inputs from the environment. Take water use for example:
Animal consumption requires 4,000 gallons of water per day, whereas plant-based consumption only requires 300 gallons per day..
Just one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce versus wheat, which requires 25 gallons.
Nearly 70% of the water used in the United States is used to raise animals.
If people are willing to make the dietary shift, consuming only plants could significantly alleviate our impact on the planet. A ground-breaking 2016 study from the University of Oxford found that emissions can be reduced by about 70% through the adoption of a plant-based diet. The model also calculates a reduction in global mortality of 6 to 10 percent, which translates to trillions of dollars saved in healthcare costs. In other words, not only would we nutritionally thrive on solely consuming plants, but we could also save the planet - everybody wins!
Iraina Rosenthal-Tawil, RD
Founder, Your Life on the Veg
Iraina is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She specializes in plant-based diets for the prevention and management of chronic disease. She offers virtual nutrition counseling via a HIPPA-secured online platform.