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7 Ways A Plant-Based Diet Can Reverse NCDs

7 Ways A Plant-Based Diet Can Reverse NCDs


Whole food, plant-based or plant-forward diets are all the rage these days, and not only because it’s kinder to the environment and to animals. These diets have gained significant attention for their potential to prevent, manage, and even reverse non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases – multiple research papers and clinical studies have proven so.

Currently, researchers are trying to see if plant-based diets can also help with pain and inflammation in endometriosis, or even prevent, delay, or slow cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Here are seven ways a plant-based diet can combat chronic health conditions:

Anti-inflammatory properties

Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with infections and injuries. It’s a biological process that is triggered for the short-term, for a specific reason. The problem is that when inflammation fails to resolve itself and becomes chronic, it could contribute to further tissue injury and diseases. Chronic inflammation is involved in the disease process of many conditions, including autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. 

Lifestyle factors such as poor diet, stress, lack of physical activity, and obesity are some of the leading contributors to chronic inflammation.

Plant-based diets are naturally high in anti-inflammatory compounds such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids, which help fight inflammation.

Aids in weight management

Plant-based diets have shown promising results in shedding extra kilos and, more importantly, helping people keep it off in the longer run. One of the reasons why this diet works out for many people is because it’s not restrictive in terms of portion size. Plant-based whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense and calorie-light, which is helpful for people who struggle with portion control or calorie counting.

Improves heart health

The benefits of a plant-based diet on heart health have been well documented since the 1980s when a study conducted with a small group found that out of 22 participants following a strict plant-based diet, four had experienced disease reversal to some extent. Since then, the concept has been examined in several different ways by various scientists and academics. More recently, Stanford Medicine researchers conducted a study on 22 identical twins and gave one person in each pair a plant-based diet; the other twin received an omnivorous diet free of sugar and refined starches with eggs, lean meats, fish, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. The study then compared the results and found that the plant-based diet showed superior results in as little as eight weeks’ time.

The diet helps with heart health because it is typically low in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are primary contributors to heart disease. Instead, it’s rich in heart-healthy nutrients like fibre, potassium, and unsaturated fats.

Regulates blood sugar

 Many plant-based foods have a low glycemic index, meaning they don’t cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This property, combined with the high fibre content of plant foods, can help regulate blood glucose levels. For individuals with diabetes or at risk of developing the condition, a plant-based diet can improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control and minimise or eliminate the need to take insulin and diabetes medication.

This diet has also been proven helpful in reducing insulin dependence in type 1 diabetes patients.

Enhances gut health

A diverse plant-based diet promotes a healthy gut microbiome. The fibre in plant foods acts as a prebiotic, feeding good gut bacteria. A healthy gut microbiome has been linked to improved metabolic health, better immune function, and better mental health.

Provides Essential Nutrients

A well-planned plant-based diet can provide all the body’s needs. These diets are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that support overall health and may have specific protective effects against NCDs. For example, the high potassium in many plant foods can lower blood pressure and antioxidants like vitamin C and E can protect against cellular damage associated with chronic diseases.

Reduces exposure to harmful compounds

When you eliminate or minimise consumption of animal products, you avoid ultra-processed items like cheese, salamis, sausages, frozen meat products, etc., which are usually laden with hidden calories, harmful additives, excessive salt, and unhealthy fats.

All in all, a well-planned plant-based diet offers a powerful approach to preventing and potentially reversing non-communicable diseases. But it’s important to make the switch after getting proper information about suitable recipes, how to read food labels so you can choose foods that fit the diet, and how to make sure the diet meets your individual nutritional needs.

Consulting with a health care professional or registered dietitian can help ensure a balanced approach, especially for those with existing health conditions or specific nutritional needs.

Dr. Zeeshan Ali is the India program specialist at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes healthier living and disease prevention through plant-based nutrition

Published on: Sunday, July 07, 2024, 01:49 AM IST



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