If you love to make New Year’s resolutions, then you should consider making a pact with yourself to eat more plants during the next 12 months. Not only are fruits, vegetables, and other foods in a plant-based diet delicious, but they may also save your life in 2023.
Proof of this possibility lies in The China Study, which was conducted back in the 1980s by nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University, who worked in partnership with researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. Those behind the study took a look at people living in 65 counties and 130 villages that are found in the rural areas of mainland China, and noted the mortality rates that were connected to around 50 diseases. What they found was that plant-based diets could help to prevent or treat 25 different illnesses that range in symptoms and severity.
Although the study was conducted decades ago, the information that it provided can still help us make healthier choices when it comes to our diet, which might help to prevent some common diseases. For instance, Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, and author of Recipe For Survival with Cambridge University Press, talks to Eat This, Not That! about the following five diseases that can all “be treated, reversed, and/or see a reduced risk of developing (possibly even preventing)” by eating more plants.
Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States dies due to cardiovascular disease, which makes it the leading cause of death for adults in the U.S., according to the CDC. Fortunately, multiple studies—including a 2017 review that was published in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, a 2018 review found in Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, and a 2019 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association—have found that plant-based foods can improve heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular-related death.
Hunnes backs-up these findings, saying, “A whole-food, plant-based diet is high in fiber, minimizes saturated fat and trans fats, and is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, all of which lower cholesterol plaques in the body, lower inflammation, and reduce the risk of all of these chronic and debilitating diseases listed in this article, most of which are worsened by an inflammatory, high-animal protein diet.”
In 2020, suffering a stroke was associated with one out of every six heart disease-related deaths in the U.S., per the CDC. Beyond that, around 87% of strokes are what’s known as ischemic strokes, which occur when an adequate amount of blood is not able to get to the brain.
However, just like heart disease, studies have shown that plant-based diets may help to prevent strokes. Findings published in Neurology in 2021 showed that a healthy plant-based diet could lower the risk of all kinds of stroke, while researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health noted that consuming a plant-based diet that included leafy greens, whole grains, and beans, while ditching unhealthier options, led to a 10% reduction in the risk of stroke.
“Just like heart disease, strokes (especially ischemic) are associated with higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and plaques in the body,” Hunnes notes, while adding that “these can be reversed and/or treated with a whole-food, plant-based diet, just like with the heart disease mentioned above.”
Diabetes affects more than 11% of those living in the U.S., which is over 37 million individuals, according to the CDC. A 2017 study published by the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology also points out that these numbers continue to rise, while showing that plant-based diets can help to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.
Hunnes explains that “When we eat inflammatory foods (such as animal products and processed foods), we initiate an insulin response and inflammatory response with IGF-1.” She also says that “Inflammation and high blood-sugars (associated with processed foods and some meat products) can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.” Apparently, “A whole-food, plant-based diet reverses this and lowers inflammation and blood sugars in one swoop.”
Another serious issue that affects around 37 million adults in the U.S. is kidney disease. Hunnes tells us that “Diabetes and high blood pressure increase the risk of kidney disease,” but this is another health issue that can be prevented or managed with a plant-based diet.
A 2020 analysis published in Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension concluded that plant-based diets were ideal for preventing chronic kidney disease. Additional research from that same year found in Nature Reviews Nephrology noted that diets that prioritize plants can help lower the risk of problematic symptoms related to kidney disease, as well as its progression.
Hunnes adds that “When we eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, we can lower our blood pressure and our risk for diabetes, and we, therefore, might lower our risk of kidney disease.”