As a long-time advocate for healthy plant-based diets for both prevention and treatment of chronic illness, the last three years have been bitterly disappointing for me on two related fronts:
Firstly, most of the leading figures in the world of plant-based nutrition joined the Covidian cult. It was shocking and disheartening to see health professionals whom I've admired for years for their courage and tenacity in pushing against the status quo (including the profligate use of pharmaceuticals for lifestyle-induced conditions), now endorsing non-evidence-based biosecurity theatre such as face coverings and lockdowns, and urging their followers to take rushed-to-market injections with no meaningful safety data... and all for a respiratory condition with the same infection fatality rate as the flu. The only exceptions that I'm aware of are:
Secondly, the plant-based nutrition movement has increasingly been infiltrated and co-opted by a cabal of globalists, multinational corporations and venture capitalists peddling ultraprocessed vegan junk food, rather than the minimally-processed plant foods that facilitate disease reversal and support optimal human health. This has unfortunately led the majority of the 'medical freedom movement' to reject any and all versions of plant-based diets, and to enthusiastically embrace (so-called) paleo- or even carnivore-style diets as insignia of their vehement opposition to having their dietary choices dictated to them by the global nanny state.
So when a new study comes out with findings that a healthful plant-based diet decreases the risk of premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, while an unhealthful plant-based diet has the opposite effect, I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, it's gratifying to have hard data from a large study (126 394 participants in UK Biobank, a long-running population-based study) that supports the dietary advice that I give to my clients: draw as much of your food intake as you possibly can from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.
On the other hand, many of the people I'm now talking with are - not unreasonably, given the events of the last three-plus years - deeply suspicious of the entire scientific enterprise, and are therefore dubious about any research that seems to support the globalist agenda of wiping out animal agriculture to appease the weather gods.
Let me reassure you that this study is not propaganda issued by the wealthy wackadoodles promoting fake meat, synthetic breast milk and disgusting stuff made from bugs. Their findings actually argue for more real food consumption.
Get the appWith that rather lengthy preamble, let's dig into the study.
The UK Biobank study began recruiting participants aged between 40 and 69, from across England, Scotland, and Wales, in 2006, with the stated mission of identifying the causes of a wide range of complex diseases of middle and old age. Participants agreed to a comprehensive baseline assessment and regular submission of questionnaires on health-related behaviours, along with invitations to participate in various sub-projects (some of which I've discussed in previous articles).
For this study, participants' intake of 17 food groups - whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea and coffee, fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, animal fat, dairy, eggs, fish or seafood, meat, and miscellaneous animal-derived foods - was used to sort them into four groups (quartiles) on the basis of their level of adherence to a healthy plant-based diet index (hPDI) and an unhealthy plant-based diet index (uPDI).
The hPDI was constructed by summing the intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, tea and coffee), and subtracting intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, fruit juices, sweets and desserts) and animal foods.
The uPDI, conversely, was constructed by summing the intake of unhealthy plant foods and subtracting intake of healthy plant foods and animal foods.
The differences in intake of the various categories of food were significant, but not particularly dramatic. For example, participants ranked in the lowest quartile of the hPDI averaged 1.6 serves of whole grains, 1.5 serves of fruit, 1.7 serves of vegetables, 0.1 serves of nuts and 0.3 serves of legumes per day. Those in the top quartile averaged 2.8 serves of whole grains, 3.2 serves of fruit, 3.5 serves of vegetables, 0.3 serves of nuts and 0.6 serves of legumes per day. I'd give that a B- if it was one of my clients' food journals, with advice to eat a lot more vegetables and legumes, and bump up their nut intake.
Those who scored in the top quartile of the hPDI ate considerably less refined grains, sugary drinks, sweets and desserts, animal fat and meat than those in the bottom quartile, but were much the same on dairy, fish and seafood intake.
But despite eating what I would consider a fair-to-middling diet, those who scored in the highest quartile of the hPDI had a significantly lower risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease and cancer than those with the lowest scores, as shown below (Interpretation primer: the blue-grey square represents the mean, or average value for the hazard ratio i.e. the likelihood of occurrence of the outcome of interest in each group, while the horizontal grey lines represent the confidence intervals; if any of these horizontal lines crosses the dotted vertical line, the result is not statistically significant, i.e. more likely due to random chance than to a causal effect of diet choices):
The study's authors propose two major mechanisms by which healthful plant-based diets might decrease the risk of chronic disease and premature death:
The moral of the story is quite simple: if you want to maximise your chances of living a long, healthy life, eat more plant-derived foods in a state as close as possible to their natural form, and minimise your intake of highly processed plant-derived foods and animal foods. Your body will thank you for it, and your would-be overlords will be bummed that they've lost a customer for their sick-care business empire. That's a pretty damn good outcome, in my book.
Update:I really wanted to highlight this comment by Rogier van Vlissingen and recommend his article, Innocence Lost at Lifestyle Medicine Conference:
One paragraph from Rogier’s excellent article particularly caught my eye, as it sums up my own position perfectly:
“The essence of [T. Colin] Campbell’s critique is that the materialistic, reductionist mode of reasoning that is imparted with medical education flies in the face of the more holistic, whole systems type of thinking, and the terrain theory of disease. Medicine simply invents disease and raises hypochondriacs, who come to a doctor all trained to think that for every ill, there is a pill, and the doctors know which side their bread is buttered, so they prescribe the pills. We’ll need a new type of healthcare that actually cares for health first.”
Amen to that.
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