Dr. Joel Kahn: Look at the powerful health advantages of a vegan diet

January 09, 2021, 12:45 PM

The writer of twice-monthly health columns is a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He is an author and has appeared on national TV, including "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show." 

By Dr. Joel Kahn

I've followed a plant-based diet (no eggs, meats, dairy) since 1977, when the salad bar at my University of Michigan dormitory was the only choice that looked edible. It worked out well for my cardiology career, as it is the only diet ever shown to reverse heart disease.

One concern I hear from patients is “my doctor is not supportive.” To help you navigate this choice in January (aka "Veganuary"), here are five advantages of plant-based diets from a recent medical research article that also addresses five common concerns.

(Photo: Depositphotos)

Five benefits

1) Obesity reduction: "A vegan diet caused more calories to be burned after meals in contrast to non-vegan diets. ... Vegetarian diets are nutrient-dense and can be recommended for weight management without compromising diet quality. ... A plant-based diet seems to be a sensible approach for the prevention of obesity in children. ... "Plant-based dietary patterns should be encouraged for optimal health." All are statements backed by scientific research.

2) Diabetes prevention and control: "A low-fat, plant-based diet with no or little meat may help to prevent and treat diabetes. ... People on the low-fat vegan diet were able to reduce their medication."

3) Blood pressure: So many suffer from hypertension, yet “vegetarian diets were associated with lower systolic blood pressure and lower diastolic blood pressure."

4) Heart disease: The strongest data for the health benefits involve heart issues. Researchers reviewed data, including the finding that there are improvements of "even severe coronary atherosclerosis after only one year" of PBD. In another study group, "vegetarians had a 24% reduction in ischemic heart disease death rates compared with non-vegetarians" -- a powerful advantage to consider.

5) Longevity: A Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee at the U.S. Agriculture Department notes that "plant-based diets were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality compared with non-plant based diets."

Five concerns

1) Protein shortage: "Generally, patients on a plant-based diet are not at risk for protein deficiency. ... A well-balanced plant-based diet will provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids and prevent protein deficiency."

Dr. Joel Kahn began a vegan diet as a University of Michigan student.

2) Anemia risk: Iron stores may be lower, yet the American Dietetic Association says: "Iron-deficiency anemia is rare even in individuals who follow a plant-based diet."

3) Vitamin B12 concern: This vitamin is produced by bacteria, not by plants or animals. It's true that "individuals who follow a plant-based diet that includes no animal products may be vulnerable to B12 deficiency and need to supplement their diet with vitamin B12." So take some.

4) Calcium and vitamin D: Plant sources high in calcium include greens and tofu. Vitamin D is in soy milk and cereal grains. “Supplements are recommended for those who are at risk for low bone mineral density and for those found to be deficient in vitamin D.” Ask for a blood test measuring your vitamin D-25OH level.

5) Omega-3: A plant diet may be more likely to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. “Foods that are good sources of n-3 fats should be emphasized. They include ground flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil." Blood tests that measure omega-3 levels are available and not expensive.

The journal article says: "Some of the benefits of a [plant-based diuet] are the possibility of reducing the number of medications they take to treat a variety of chronic conditions, lower body weight, decreased risk of cancer and a reduction in their risk of death from ischemic heart disease."

Start by simply eating more apples, oranges, salads, bean and lentil soups, and whole grains like brown rice. In the remaining weeks of this month, participate in a "Veganuary" challenge.

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