New commentary has outlined key benefits of plant-based diets that could help six health conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
Published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, a new commentary emphasises the ways plant-based diets can alleviate the burden of some health conditions. Plant-based diets consist of foods derived from plant sources like fruits, grains and pulses.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has outlined the important benefits of following a plant-based diet on health conditions and why all practising physicians should be aware of these advantages.
Nutritional training is necessary for physicians
“The field of medicine, despite its prominent influence in society, has invested little to promote healthy lifestyle choices,” said the commentary co-authored by Saray Stancic, MD, FACLM, director of medical education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “The consequence of this is reflected in our ever-rising chronic disease statistics, most notably obesity and diabetes rates.”
Part of the problem, noted the authors, is that “medical schools offer an anaemic number of hours of nutrition education over four years,” which does not improve in postgraduate training. They explained that a recent survey of more than 600 cardiologists found that 90% reported they had not received needed nutrition education during training.
“It is time for all physicians across the globe to speak to the importance of diet and lifestyle in health,” concluded the commentary, which recommends that physicians do this by counselling patients, assuring hospitals provide healthy menus, lecturing in the community, writing articles, using social media, and providing commentary to media.
How plant-based diets help health conditions
The commentary noted that although physicians do not need to be experts in plant-based diets and nutrition, it is crucial to have some expertise about the benefits of plant-based diets for several health conditions:
- Weight loss and maintenance: The commentary called upon a previous study of 70,000 people that consumed a plant-based diet and weighed nine pounds less than those who did not. They also had a reduced risk of death.
- Cardiovascular disease: Saturated fat and cholesterol are found in high quantities in animal products; both are key drivers of cardiovascular disease. A meta-analysis found that individuals consuming a vegetarian diet decreased LDL cholesterol by 13mg/dl. Another analysis found a 24% lower rate of heart disease deaths amongst vegetarians compared to omnivores.
- Cancer: plant-based diets and physical fitness can potentially reduce breast cancer risk by 50-70%; a previous study has shown that diets incorporating soy and high fibre foods can further reduce breast cancer risk. High fibre diets can also reduce colorectal cancer risk. Diets with high quantities of dairy products increase prostate cancer risk and daily consumption of red/processed meats can heighten risk.
- Diabetes: A Harvard study previously concluded that individuals consuming plant-based diets could see a 34% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Another study found that individuals consuming the primarily plant-based Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) had a 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- COVID-19: An Harvard COVID-19 study found that those consuming a primarily plant-based diet had a 41% reduced risk of severe COVID-19 and a 9% reduction in infection of any severity.