Can a Plant-based Diet Improve Health?

Eating a plant-based diet.

One of the most powerful steps you can take to improve your health, boost energy levels, and prevent chronic diseases is to move to a plant-based diet. There’s excellent scientific evidence that many chronic diseases can be prevented, controlled, or even reversed with a whole-food, plant-based diet.

Many Americans make food choices that may set them up to be impacted by various chronic health conditions. In fact, the top source of calories for Americans aged 2 years and older is grain-based desserts, according to Michelle McMacken, MD who is the executive director of nutrition and lifestyle medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals and an associate professor at NYU Langone Health and the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. According to McMacken food choices are some of the most important choices a person can make for their health.  Eating patterns have a critical impact on the risk for chronic disease and premature mortality.

Cardiovascular health

Consumption of red and processed meats is linked to an increased cardiovascular risk, including diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure. Among individuals with one or more mortality risk factor, replacing just 3% of calories with plant protein instead of animal protein was linked to mortality reductions of 34% for processed red meat and 12% for unprocessed red meat.

In addition to meat, sugar intake has been linked to cardiovascular health. The average consumption of sugar in the U.S. is about double the recommended daily value. The American Heart Association advises a maximum of 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. However, the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons of sugars daily!

McMacken emphasized that risk is linked to consumption of added sugars, not natural sugars. Two and a half servings of fruits and vegetables per day can significantly decrease cardiovascular risk, including an 8% decrease for coronary heart disease, 16% decrease for stroke and 10% decrease for all-cause mortality.

Insulin resistance

Processed and red meat and added sugars have also been linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, a daily serving of bacon (or other processed meat) was associated with a greater risk for diabetes (37%) than red meat (17%) and sugar-added beverages (21%).

Substituting just 5% of animal protein calories with plant protein can decrease one’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 23%, research has shown. Moreover, replacing about 35% of an individual’s total animal protein consumption with plant protein significantly lowered HbA1c, fasting glucose and fasting insulin.

Regular consumption of excess calories, saturated fats, and isolated forms of fructose, such as high-fructose corn syrup, can lead to buildup of certain lipid subtypes in the skeletal muscle and liver. This phenomenon, known as lipotoxicity, is a primary cause of insulin resistance and can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes.

Practical nutrition counseling

A plant based diet provides many health benefits based on the amount of research linking food choice to health risks. A plant-based eating pattern is really just an eating pattern around which [plant-based foods] are really the foundation. It doesn’t mean you have to be 100% plant based. It just means that you’re focusing a lot of your calories on those most healthy foods.

A healthful plant-based diet, low in unhealthy plant-based foods like fruit juices, white flour, desserts and sugar-sweetened drinks, has been shown to reduce Blood Pressure, promote a healthier body weight, enhance glycemic control, improve vascular health, decrease inflammation and decrease lipids.

Eating mostly vegetables, beans, lentils, peas, fruits and whole grains, and avoiding or working to limit red and processed meats, sugary beverages and highly processed foods has been linked to an 8% to 17% decrease in mortality.

And change doesn’t not need to happen overnight. One of the healthiest diet plans is the 80/20 plan. Take positive steps to manage your diet and you will see great results.

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