When the topic of how food choices affect our health comes up in conversation, it most likely includes the words vegetarian or vegan. And unless you are just returning from a silent retreat in a cave in the Himalayas, you’ve probably read about the numerous studies reporting the health benefits of eating a diet mostly based on plant foods. The case for eating a plant-based diet is impressive, and it has grown stronger in 2014.
The results of four new studies published recently confirm and expand the findings of Dr. Adam Bernstein, who directs research within the Wellness Institute, and his colleagues. They reported last year that an increase of more than half a serving (1 oz.) of red meat per day increased the risk for Type 2 diabetes by almost 50 percent, in a study among 150,000 health professionals and nurses.
Now, a large study from Europe (66,000 women followed prospectively over a 14-year period), has found that those with diets high in meat and low in plant foods and carbohydrates had more than a 50 percent increased risk of developing diabetes when compared with women who ate abundant quantities of veggies and fruits. If you think that a little bit of meat does not matter for your blood sugar control, think again.
Furthermore, a study of more than 4,000 participants from Taiwan reveals that compared with omnivorous participants, women and men who avoided all meat products (including poultry and fish) were 30 percent (women) and 50 percent (men) less likely to have diabetes. It’s important to note that the omnivorous participants in the study consumed a predominantly plant-based diet with little meat or fish, nothing akin to our western, typical meat-based diet.
So how does meat increase risk of diabetes? The effects of eating meat appear to be related to its content of saturated fat, iron and protein, as well as to its great ability to fuel the flames of inflammation, which in turn drives up the risk of many chronic diseases, including diabetes.
Having better blood glucose control is only one of the many ways eating plants improves your health. A recent study confirms previous findings that vegans, those who abstain from all foods of animal origin, have better cholesterol levels and body weight than people who eat meat, poultry, fish, or even those who eat vegetarian diets containing dairy and/or eggs.
And if that’s not enough motivation to change your diet, consider this: An analysis of seven clinical trials and 32 observational epidemiologic studies shows that consumption of vegetarian diets was associated with significant reduction in blood pressure (approximately half of the effect observed in clinical trials with blood pressure medications) compared with the intake of omnivorous diets.
This research is exciting because it shows that food is medicine, and one that we can use on a daily basis. If we apply our use of this “medicine” wisely, that is, avoid foods of animal origin, we can positively and profoundly impact three key risk factors — diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol — that lead to heart attacks. And not to be minimized, other studies show that veggie eaters also have lower risk of several types of cancers.
What a great medicine food is! Now, imagine how much more powerful the beneficial effects of a vegetarian diet would be if you also consumed only 100% whole grain products rather than refined carbohydrates and processed food-like substances. Remember: You can call yourself a vegan and still eat a lousy diet (e.g. white-flour pizza with a non-dairy, fat-laden cheese, washed down with sugary soda). The key word for plant foods is the word “whole” — that is, unrefined, unprocessed whole foods.
So get your chewing muscles into shape and start retraining your taste buds if you have to. The ultimate result — vibrant health!