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Plant-Based Diets - Obesity, Diabetes, and Overall Mortality

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A healthy, plant-based diet aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). It encourages lots of vegetables (cooked or raw), fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds, and nuts (in smaller amounts) and is generally low fat.

The goal of our diet should be to improve our health, energy, and vitality, instead of partaking in "yo-yo" dieting. The best diet is one that is a lifestyle and can be adhered to long-term. Let's take a look at some of the incredible health benefits associated with a plant-based style of eating when it comes to obesity, diabetes, and overall mortality!


In 2006, after reviewing data from 87 published studies, authors Berkow and Barnard reported in Nutrition Reviews that a vegan or vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. (1) They also found that vegetarian populations have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. In addition, their review suggests that weight loss in vegetarians is not dependent on exercise and occurs at a rate of approximately 1 pound per week. The authors further stated that a vegan diet caused more calories to be burned after meals, in contrast to non-vegan diets which may cause fewer calories to be burned because food is being stored as fat.

Farmer et al suggest that vegetarian diets may be better for weight management and may be more nutritious than diets that include meat. (2) In their study, they showed that vegetarians were slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts. Vegetarians were also found to consume more magnesium, potassium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, and vitamins and less total fat. The authors conclude that vegetarian diets are nutrient dense and can be recommended for weight management without compromising diet quality.


We all know at least one person, perhaps in our immediate family, or a fellow neighbor, or friend of a friend, who has the unfortunate diagnosis of diabetes, with no other options but to take insulin and/or metformin for the rest of their life. The good news is that plant-based diets may offer an advantage over those that are not plant based with respect to prevention and management of diabetes.

The Adventist Health Studies found that vegetarians have approximately half the risk of developing diabetes as nonvegetarians. (3) In 2008, Vang et al reported that nonvegetarians were 74% more likely to develop diabetes over a 17-year period than vegetarians. (4) In 2009, a study involving more than 60,000 men and women found that the prevalence of diabetes in individuals on a vegan diet was 2.9%, compared with 7.6% in the nonvegetarians. (5) A low-fat, plant-based diet with no or little meat may help prevent and treat diabetes, possibly by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance.


The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee performed a 2010 literature review to determine the effect of plant-based diets on stroke, cardiovascular disease, and total mortality in adults. They found that plant-based diets were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality compared with non-plant-based diets. (6) In 2012, Huang et al performed a meta-analysis to investigate cardiovascular disease mortality among vegetarians and nonvegetarians. They only included studies that reported relative risks and corresponding 95% confidence intervals. Seven studies with a combined total of 124,706 participants were analyzed. Vegetarians had 29% lower ischemic heart disease mortality than nonvegetarians. (7)

Final Thoughts

A plant-based diet has the ability to radically improve your health and well-being. If you are coming from a lifestyle consisting of animal food products, processed foods, and sodas at each meal and do not have a desire to eat more fruits, vegetables, and plant foods in general, don't worry! Our taste buds have this amazing ability to change within two weeks, or even earlier, to the point that you will begin to crave these healthy plant foods instead of the foods you used to eat regularly. The best part? You can eat as many fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, quinoa, avocado, nuts, seeds, millet, and brown rice as you'd like without worrying about gaining weight or feeling guilty that you over-ate because these foods are highly beneficial for the human body. Say goodbye to over-obsessing about macros, calories, and specific food combinations and welcome the new peace of mind that will come with the plant-based lifestyle!


(1) Berkow SE, Barnard N. Nutr Rev. 2006 Apr; 64(4):175-88.

(2) Farmer B, Larson BT, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Rainville AJ, Liepa GU. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Jun; 111(6):819-27.

(3) Snowdon DA, Phillips RL. Am J Public Health. 1985 May; 75(5):507-12.

(4) Vang A, Singh PN, Lee JW, Haddad EH, Brinegar CH. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008; 52(2):96-104.

(5) Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Diabetes Care. 2009 May; 32(5):791-6.

(6) Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010: to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.Washington, DC: Agriculture Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. May

(7) Huang T, Yang B, Zheng J, Li G, Wahlqvist ML, Li D. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012; 60(4):233-40.

Article sourced via "Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets" - . 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66


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