What is Plant-Based? Let me clarify something here. Sometimes, the term plant-based is used interchangeably with vegetarian or vegan. A Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet is NOT a vegetarian or vegan diet. A vegetarian or vegan diet may or may not be healthy – Oreos are vegan – get my point? A Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet encourages the consumption of plant foods in their whole form especially vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. No animal products are consumed.
Why Plant-Based? Simply stated, I think that the goal of our diet should be to improve our health. As I have studied many, many diets and researched nutrition, I have come to the conclusion that a plant-based diet is the best way to eat for optimal health. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Weight Management. “Research has proven that individuals who eat a plant-based diet are slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts. A plant-based diet offers more vitamins and minerals and less fat, resulting in a lower BMI. Studies exploring the risk of overweight and food groups and dietary patterns indicate that a plant-based diet seems to be a sensible approach for the prevention of obesity in children. Plant-based diets are low in energy density and high in complex carbohydrate, fiber, and water, which may increase satiety and resting energy expenditure” (Sabaté J, Wien M. Vegetarian diets and child- hood obesity prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 2010 May;91(5):1525S-1529S. DOI: http://dx.doi. org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.28701F).
2. Diabetes. “A low-fat, plant-based diet with no meat may help prevent and treat type II diabetes, possibly by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance” (Perm J 2013 Spring;17(2):61-66). There was a fascinating article published in 1997 regarding the insulin index of foods. They ranked 38 foods based on which stimulated higher insulin levels. Now, which food do you think caused a larger insulin spike – a large apple, a cup of oatmeal, a cup and a half of white flour pasta, a big, bunless burger or half of a salmon filet? The answer was the meat! Meat protein causes as much insulin release as pure sugar (Am J Clin Nutr l997;66:l264â€”76). Conclusion? Complex carbohydrates taste good AND are good for you! Professor James Anderson at the University of Kentucky is one of the most prominent scientists studying diet and diabetes and has been doing this for many years. He has published impressive results using dietary means alone. One of his studies examined the effects of a high-fiber, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on 25 type 1 diabetics and 25 type 2 diabetics, and he did this in a hospital setting. None of his 50 patients was overweight, and all of them were taking insulin shots to control their blood sugar levels. After just three weeks, the type 1 diabetic patients were able to lower their insulin medication by an average of 40%. This is a remarkable study because most people don’t think diet can help with type 1 diabetes because these are people who don’t produce insulin. Of the 25 type 2 patients, 24 were able to discontinue their insulin medication during the course of the study. (Anderson JW. “Dietary fiber in nutrition management of diabetes.” In: Vahouny GV, Kritchevsky D, eds. Dietary Fiber: Basic and Clinical Aspects. New York: Plenum Press, 1986:343-360.)
3. Heart Disease. “Dr. Dean Ornish in California and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. in Ohio during the mid l980’s unbeknownst to each other but within months of each other separately initiated studies of plant based nutrition as treatment for patients severely ill with coronary artery disease. The goal was to remove every last morsel of animal food, dairy, processed flour, and oils that were causing the disease and to eat a diet of vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains. In all compliant patients results were prompt and enduring. Angina heart pain diminished or disappeared as cholesterol levels promptly lowered and both physicians found that x-rays of the hearts’ arteries confirmed the disease could be reversed. Dr. Ornish proved this after one year of treatment. Dr. Esselstyn showed the same at 5 years and reported his results again at 12, 16, and finally beyond 21 years in his recently released book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Dr. Esselstyn is particularly pleased with a smaller subset of patients who were told by expert cardiologists in 1986 they had less than a year to live all of whom are alive, 21 years later.” (“Abolishing Heart Disease” by Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.)
4. Cancer. “The World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries. When cancer researchers started to search for links between diet and cancer, one of the most noticeable findings was that people who avoided meat were much less likely to develop the disease. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.” (Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Br Med J 1994; 308:1667-70. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R. Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians. Int J Epidemiol 1993;22:228-36.)
“Two themes consistently emerge from studies of cancer from many sites: vegetables and fruits help to reduce risk, while meat, animal products, and other fatty foods are frequently found to increase risk. Consumption of dietary fat drives production of hormones, which, in turn, promotes growth of cancer cells in hormone-sensitive organs such as the breast and prostate. Meat is devoid of the protective effects of fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other helpful nutrients, and it contains high concentrations of saturated fat and potentially carcinogenic compounds, which may increase one’s risk of developing many different kinds of cancer. Diets rich in high-fiber plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits offer a measure of protection.” (World Cancer Research Fund. Food, nutrition, and the prevention of cancer: A global perspective. American Institute of Cancer Research. Washington, DC: 1997.) “Fiber greatly speeds the passage of food through the colon, effectively removing carcinogens, and fiber actually changes the type of bacteria that is present in the intestine, so there is reduced production of carcinogenic secondary bile acids. Plant foods are also naturally low in fat and rich in antioxidants and other anti-cancer compounds. Not surprisingly, vegetarians are at the lowest risk for cancer and have a significantly reduced risk compared to meat-eaters.” (Phillips RL. Role of lifestyle and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh-day Adventists. Cancer Res 1975;35(Suppl):3513-22.)