Which diseases does a plant-based diet reverse or prevent?
Following a plant-based diet means you do not eat any animal products like meat, eggs, or dairy. It also means you do eat plenty of whole foods, like vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts. This diet has been shown to reduce the risk of some diseases and even reverse the effects of others.
Many experts agree that there are several ways that following this type of diet can be good for your health:
Reduces risk of developing diabetes
Studies show that vegans, another name for people who do not eat meat, eggs, or dairy products, have a much lower risk of developing diabetes. A study of 60,000 people showed that about 2.9% of vegans have diabetes compared with 7.6% of people who are not vegan.
Another study followed participants for 17 years. It showed that vegetarians, people who do not eat meat but may eat dairy and eggs, have less than half of the risk of developing diabetes compared to people who are not vegetarians.
Even if you already have diabetes, a plant-based diet may help. Research shows that following a low-fat plant-based diet could help you to reduce your dependence on medication for diabetes. It also shows that following this type of diet could be better for your blood sugar levels than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association.
Reduces risk factors for heart disease
Studies show that a plant-based diet can reverse the effects of several risk factors for heart disease significantly.
In one study, 82% of people with atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, saw some level of reversal after following a specific plant-based diet for one year. The control group that didn't follow the diet saw significantly more narrowing of the arteries as the disease progressed over that same year. Following this diet had a similar effect to taking cholesterol-lowering medications.
An analysis of multiple studies showed that vegetarians are 24% less likely to die from heart disease. Some experts believe this is because people following a plant-based diet usually have lower cholesterol than those who do not.
Other research shows that following a vegetarian diet is associated with having lower blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is another risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular disease events.
Reduces cancer risks
There is a large body of research that shows a plant-based diet can reduce your risk of developing some types of cancers. Some people believe this is because vegans and vegetarians are more likely to eat more actual plants, which contain phytochemicals. These substances may protect cells and reduce inflammation, which may be a risk factor for cancer.
Plant-based diets are also usually very high in fiber. A higher fiber diet was associated with less breast cancer risk in one study, and another showed a lower risk of getting colon cancer.
People who are obese are more likely to develop certain types of cancers. Research shows that people who follow a plant-based diet weigh less, on average, than people who do not.
It's not only that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of some cancers; inversely, eating red meat daily has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer by 2%, while eating processed meats like hot dogs daily can increase the risk by nearly 30%.
Healthy plant-based diet tips
Eating vegan or vegetarian does not automatically mean you are eating a healthy diet. Many chips, cookies, and candies happen to be vegan, but they are still foods that should be enjoyed in moderation. Eating a healthy plant-based diet means you make sure to include plenty of whole fruits, vegetables, and grains and to avoid processed foods.
However, to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet, you don't necessarily have to eschew all animal products 100% of the time. The Mediterranean diet is similar to a plant-based diet but allows fish and chicken, as well as small amounts of dairy. Studies show that this diet also helps to lower the risk of heart disease events by more than 70%.
Some experts recommend a "more" plant-based diet rather than a fully plant-based one. Tips for this include:
- Use meat as a condiment. For example, sprinkle a small amount of shredded chicken on a salad or homemade pizza to get the flavor without making meat the focus of the meal.
- Make it a goal to try one new meat-free recipe each week. Adding plant-based experiments to your weekly schedule will help you learn delicious meat- and dairy-free recipes.
- Try plant-based versions of your favorite comfort foods. There are many meat and dairy substitutes that make it possible to recreate your favorite dishes without using animal products.
- Use plenty of seasoning. Some people believe that plant-based foods are bland or boring, but you can make them taste better by adding your favorite spices.
- Use beans and legumes to take up space on your plate. These protein and nutrient-rich options can be used in a wide variety of meals.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American College of Cardiology: "Lifestyle Heart Trial - Long-term study - LHT long term follow up."
Diabetes Care: "Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes."
Mayo Clinic: "How plant-based food helps fight cancer."
Reducetarian Foundation: "8 Plant-Based Versions Of Classic Recipes," "Thinking About Going Reducetarian? Here's Some Advice."
The Permanente Journal: "Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets."
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