The convergence of evidence suggests that an affordable plant-based diet can help prevent and even reverse many of the top killers in the Western world. This could save Medicare billions of dollars, but medical training continues to underemphasize nutrition education, in part, perhaps, because lifestyle interventions go against the prevailing conventional wisdom. The USDA, in formulating its dietary guidelines, has been accused of both acting with bias and ignoring relevant research. However, the most recent guidelines take a step in the right direction by recommending a shift to a plant-based diet.
The #1 killer in the US – heart disease – seems to be effectively treated with a plant-based diet because food is a package deal (see also here, here, here, here, here). Even having “normal” cholesterol levels may be dangerous, and the most effective way to lower cholesterol seems to be a whole foods, plant-based diet containing foods with known benefits. While switching to a plant-based diet appears to reverse heart disease, this does not mean we can eat recklessly until symptoms appear due to risk of sudden cardiac death..
A plant-based diet can also help in averting and slowing many cancers (see also here, here). This is in part because plant foods are full of anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants (on average 64 times more than animal foods, see also here, here, here, here, here, here), and phytochemicals, which in some cases can even help repair DNA damage. Interestingly enough, the power of plants can perhaps be seen most clearly in modern medicine. But we cannot get plants effectively in pill form – only through eating legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and the 9 recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. It may be helpful to cook some vegetables for optimal absorption.
Plant-based eating also appears to help with healthy intestinal transit. When it comes to healthy stool shape and size, a plant-based diet produces the healthiest stools and healthy gut flora (see also here) and leads to consistently larger and more frequent bowel movements, which are important for preventing a variety of health problems (e.g. excreting excess estrogen appears to help prevent breast cancer).
Additionally, plant-based eating may successfully control weight, prevent and treat type II diabetes, help prevent an abdominal aortic aneurysm, prevent gallstones, improve cognition, prevent age related macular degeneration, cataracts, slow aging, raise childhood IQ, improve body-odor, reduce waist circumference, reduce allergies, reduce abdominal fat, and cut down on the need for drugs and surgery. Plant-based diets are also beneficial for the prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes.
Part of the benefit of centering one’s diet around plants involves the reduction of meat, which is associated with a shortened lifespan, and other animal products that can have negative effects (such as premature breast development of young girls). Arachidonic acid in chicken and eggs may cause inflammation, increasing one’s risk for a variety of disorders including mood disturbances due to inflammation of the brain. On the other hand, many plant foods appear to reduce inflammation.
Eating low on the food chain reduces one’s exposure to industrial toxins that concentrate in animal fat (a problem multiplied by the feeding of slaughterhouse byproducts to farm animals) that may contribute to multiple diseases. Plant-based diets reduce one’s exposure to mercury and other toxic heavy metals, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), as well as xenoestrogens in fish, which may interfere with male fertility. So long as animal-products are not consumed regularly, a plant-based diet can detoxify the body of these pollutants. Healthy plant-based diets would also minimize one’s exposure to trans fats and carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Contrary to popular myth, vegans have healthy bones and higher blood protein levels than omnivores. Vegans in fact average fewer nutrient deficiencies than average omnivores. But there are important nutritional considerations. There are two vitamins not available in plants: vitamins D and B12. There is a serious risk of B12 deficiency (see also here, here, here, here, here) if no supplements or B12-fortified foods are consumed, a particular danger for infants (see also here). It can lead to Vegetarian’s Myelopathy, paralysis, a variety of other problems, and can shorten one’s lifespan. Two other nutrients to keep an eye on are iodine – which is harmful in too great or too small amounts (it is especially important during pregnancy, and can be found in sea vegetables), and zinc. Also recommended are yeast- or algae-based long chain omega 3 fatty acids. And rare genetic disorders may require special supplementation.
See also the related blog posts: Plant-based Benefits Extend Beyond the Top Killers, Optimum Nutrition Recommendations
Topic summary contributed by Eitan.
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