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Physicians need to know the benefits of plant-based diets

In a new commentary, experts are emphasizing the critical need for physicians to better understand the health benefits of plant-based foods. Since not all doctors are trained in nutrition, the report authors feel there is an urgent need for physicians to become aware of the benefits of plant-based diets for six specific health conditions: weight loss, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and COVID-19.

The commentary is co-authored by Dr. Saray Stancic, who is the director of medical education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

“The field of medicine, despite its prominent influence in society, has invested little to promote healthy lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Stancic. “The consequence of this is reflected in our ever-rising chronic disease statistics, most notably obesity and diabetes rates.”

The experts say that part of the problem is that medical schools offer “an anemic number of hours of nutrition education over 4 years,” and this does not improve in postgraduate training. A recent survey of more than 600 cardiologists revealed that 90 percent felt they had not received the necessary training in nutrition.

The commentary acknowledges that not all physicians must be experts in nutrition, but says that they should at least have rudimentary knowledge of the benefits of a plant-based diet for these six conditions.

When it comes to weight loss and maintenance, a recent study of 70,000 people showed that individuals who consume a vegan diet weigh about nine pounds less, and have a reduced risk of death. Other studies show that vegetarians have lower cholesterol and a lower rate of heart disease compared to omnivores.

Furthermore, active people with diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have an estimated lower risk of breast cancer by 50 to 70 percent, while diets high in dairy products increase the chances of developing prostate cancer. 

A study from Harvard demonstrated that individuals who consume a plant-based diet could reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by 34 percent. A separate Harvard study revealed that a primarily plant-based diet is associated with a 41 percent lower risk of severe COVID-19.

The experts also point to a study which found that a plant-based Mediterranean-DASH diet can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60 percent.

“It is time for all physicians across the globe to speak to the importance of diet and lifestyle in health,” conclude the report authors. They say this can be accomplished through counseling patients, ensuring that hospitals provide healthy menus, lecturing in the community, writing articles, and by providing commentary to the media.

The research is published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, and will be presented by Dr. Stancic at the International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine taking place in Washington, D.C.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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