In the US and developed world, the top causes of death and chronic illness are tied to lifestyle diseases: heart disease, cancers, lung diseases, diabetes, and brain diseases are linked to lifestyle choices of smoking, exercise, sleep/stress, and most importantly, our habitual food choices. If the bad news is that illness arises from habits (by some estimates, lifestyle factors make up 90% of health risks), the good news is that we all have the power to choose and make new habits.
The proof of the importance of plant-based whole foods is from four large and growing bodies of scientific knowledge:
- Clinical (intervention) trials: For heart disease, the only diet clinically and repeatedly shown to stop and reverse advanced heart disease is a whole-foods plant-based diet. Similar studies are emerging for reversing diabetes, cancers, and other chronic diseases with plant-based diets.
- The longest-lived people on Earth, in the so-called “Blue Zones” all eat predominantly plant-based diets, especially rich in legumes and beans.
- Large population observational cohort studies that distinguish between omnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan diets show lower all-cause mortality for plant-based diets. Such studies include the Adventist Health Study 2, and the EPIC-Oxford study. Other large longitudinal studies (tracking large numbers of people over time) such as The China Study find strong correlations between the amount of meat consumption, and disease rates.
- Growing knowledge of our biochemistry and digestive systems increasingly confirms the importance of nutrients available mostly or only from plants. Only plant foods have tens of thousands of phytonutrients (providing antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer molecules, etc.), and dietary fiber, which literally scrubs our innards and feeds our microbiome, which in turn releases vital nutrients to us (“To eat is human; to digest is divine.” — Mark Twain).
If you’re interested to learn more of the nutrition science for yourself, start with Dr. Greger’s global bestseller How Not To Die. Here’s a brief video summary: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-not-to-die-an-animated-summary/
A brief selection of references from the scientific literature includes:
- For excellent recent overviews of plant-based diets’ protective benefits against chronic diseases, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466942/ and http://www.thepermanentejournal.org/issues/2016/summer/6192-diet.html
- Plant-based diets and reversing heart disease — see the works of Dr. Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Kahn. One recent summary is https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466936/
- For more about Blue Zones commonalities, see https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/