Why Plant-based Diets are “Good Medicine!”

May 13, 2022
Plant-based Diets
Plant-based diets are increasingly recognized as a healthier and a viable alternative to the standard American diet (Lynch, Johnston, & Wharton, 2018). Research repeatedly affirms the value of plant-based diets in preventing or reducing the risk...

Can food really be “medicine?” It can be if it is a plant-based diet! Read on to find out more!

Plant-based diets are increasingly recognized as a healthier and a viable alternative to the standard American diet (Lynch, Johnston, & Wharton, 2018). Research repeatedly affirms the value of plant-based diets in preventing or reducing the risk of a variety of common and chronic illnesses (Lynch et al., 2018).

While the popularity of plant-based diets continues to increase, many people remain concerned about a variety of items, such as:

  • Where will I get my protein?
  • Will I develop nutritional deficiencies?
  • What if I am an athlete or I train for fitness goals?
  • What about “all those carbs?”
  • Are plant-based diets sustainable over time?

This article addresses the above questions along with highlighting just a few of the many health benefits of plant-based diets.

What is a plant-based diet?

Definitions vary in the research, but generally, plant-based diets refer to diets that emphasize plant foods over animal foods to varying degrees. Examples of plant-based diets include:

  • Vegan diets that exclude all animal products
  • Lacto-vegetarian diets (eat plant-based except they include dairy products)
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians (eat plant-based except they include dairy and egg products)
  • Pescatarian (eat a plant-based but include fish to varying frequencies/ amounts)
  • Semi-vegetarian (meat is consumed but at levels lower than more traditional western diets)

While potato chips and french fries may be plant-based, a healthy plant-based diet is one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and beans while minimizing refined grains, sugar-rich beverages, or even potato-based foods (Satija & Hu, 2018).

Plant-based diet benefits

Plant-based Diets

Far from being a limited diet, plant-based diets offer endless variety and tremendous health benefits!

Benefits of vegetarian or vegan plant-based diets as demonstrated in both observational and experimental research trials include (Escalante-Araiza, Rivera-Monroy, Loza-López, & Gutiérrez-Salmeán, 2022; Kahleova et al., 2020; Lynch et al., 2018; Satija & Hu, 2018):

  • Reduction in heart disease fatality risk
  • Cancer rate reductions particularly for vegan diets
  • Reduced risk of diabetes 
  • Reduced risk of metabolic syndrome 
  • Lower blood sugar averages 
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol
  • Lower C-reactive protein levels (a measure of inflammation)
  • Lower uric acid levels
  • Reduced visceral body fat
  • Lower obesity rates and lower BMI
  • Lower systemic inflammation levels

Researchers note that cardiovascular benefits increase as the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans increases in the diet (Satija & Hu, 2018).

Plant-based diet research highlights!

Plant-based Diets

Despite the high amount of carbohydrates in whole food plant-based diets, such diets proved superior to standard diabetic diets in research trials!

Vegan diets proved superior to standard diabetic diets in treating diabetes!  

  • A 12-week randomized controlled trial comparing standard diabetic dietary interventions versus a vegan diet centered on brown rice, legumes, and vegetables revealed that while both diets worked, the vegan diet was superior in lowering A1C levels (Lee et al., 2016).
  • This mirrors findings by the American Diabetic Association comparing their own diabetic diet versus a vegan diet–with the vegan diet proving superior to the American Diabetes Association diet in lowering A1C levels (Bernard et al., 2006).
  • Getting to the root cause of insulin resistance: A vegan diet consisting of 75% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 10% fat lowered fat levels in the liver, lowered fat levels in muscle tissue, improved insulin sensitivity, and promoted weight loss in a 16-week randomized controlled trial (Kahleova et al., 2020).

Whole food plant-based diets are effective for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, and improving quality of life!

  • Participants encouraged to adopt a whole-food plant-based diet emphasizing whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruits while minimizing or eliminating meat, dairy, and processed foods saw improvements in weight averaging 20lbs in lost weight in 3 months!!
  • Participants who adopted plant-based diets experienced improvements in cholesterol, quality of life, reductions in medications, and reductions in insulin resistance / A1C levels (Wright, Wilson, Smith, Duncan, & McHugh, 2017).
  • Participants continued to lose weight after the study ended, with an average weight loss of 27lbs at 6 months from the beginning of the 12-week study period!! (Gregor, 2020).

Protection against severe outcomes from COVID-19

  • As reported in the British Medical Journal, those consuming predominantly plant-based diets were at lower risk for COVID-10 and for severe COVID-19 disease outcomes (Merino et al., 2021).

Plant-based diets: nutritional adequacy, fitness applications

Plant-based Diets

Fears of plant-based diets hampering fitness goals are simply unfounded. Athletes on plant-based diets have demonstrated equal or superior fitness outcomes compared to omnivores!

A common concern regarding plant-based diets, particularly among fitness enthusiasts, involves protein quality and amounts of protein available in plant-based diets.

However, a 12-week randomized controlled trial comparing whey protein supplementation versus soy protein supplementation found no significant differences in strength or muscle development between participants who exercised (Lynch et al., 2020).

According to the American College of Sports Medicine:

Vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, and nutritarian diets are healthful options for serious athletes.

(Fuhrman & Ferreri, 2010).

While the research on vegan and vegetarian athletes is limited, the American College of Sports Medicine notes that findings in the available literature demonstrate equal or at times superior athletic performance when comparing plant-based athletes to omnivore athletes (Fuhrman & Ferrari, 2010).

Concerns also center on general nutritional adequacy. However, as noted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”

(Melina, Craig, & Levin, 2016).

Common concerns about deficiencies for people following plant-based diets tend to center on protein, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s positions concerning the nutritional adequacy of plant-based diets are as follows:

Plant-based Diets

Major dietetic associations agree: plant-based diets including well-planned vegan diets are healthy, sustainable, and sufficient diets!

Plant-based diets are UNLIKELY to be deficient in the following (Melina, Craig, & Levin, 2016):

  • Protein needs are met or exceeded on plant-based diets when caloric intake is sufficient
  • Omega-3 needs can be met from plant-based sources such as flaxseed, or vegan algae supplements
  • Iron status as measured by hemoglobin values and other labs is similar between vegetarians and non-vegetarians
  • Western vegans do not exhibit zinc deficiencies

Areas where plant-based diets may be deficient without supplementation (Melina, Craig, & Levin, 2016):

  • Iodine deficiency is possible when following a plant-based diet. Dairy products are a major source of iodine due to the processes involved in milk production. 150 mcg daily is suggested for those concerned about iodine deficiency.
  • Calcium is often associated with dairy products. Vegans need to consume foods rich in calcium such as kale, bok choy, white beans, almonds, tahini, figs, oranges, calcium set tofu, and fortified plant-milks and may consider low-dose supplements.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is common in those following omnivore and plant-based diets due to lower levels of sun exposure. Experts recommend anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D for those who do not get regular sun exposure.
  • Vitamin B12: supplementation is a MUST for persons following a plant-based diet.  Recommendations are for 500 to 1,000 μg cyanocobalamin several times per week.

The American Dietetic Association and British Dietetic Association (among others) likewise recognize the dietary sufficiency of carefully planned vegetarian and vegan diets (British Dietetic Association, 2022; Craig, Mangels, & American Dietetic Association, 2009).

Finally, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, a board-certification program for physicians and other healthcare providers, fully endorses plant-based diets including vegan diets (American College of Lifestyle Medicine, 2022).

How Lancaster Wellness can help!

 Plant-based Diets

For those who wish to transition to a plant-based diet, Lancaster Wellness can help!

At Lancaster Wellness, we have plant-based meal plans that we can fine-tune to match your caloric needs and weight goals. These meal plans contain recipes and can support you as you transition from a traditional western omnivore diet to a more plant-based diet.

With the following plant-based meal plans, we are able to support your health and nutrition goals using:

  • Mediterranean diet meal plans
  • Flexitarian diet meal plans
  • Vegetarian diet meal plans 
  • Vegan diet meal plans 

Additionally, for those opting to go 100% plant-based, we can support your goals while helping you minimize your risks by monitoring your blood levels for vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron/ iron stores, as well as providing vitamin B12 injections if desired or determined necessary.

Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you optimize your health and nutrition!!! Live well!


American College of Lifestyle Medicine. (2022). Food as medicine. Retrieved from https://www.lifestylemedicine.org/foodasmed

Barnard, N. D., Cohen, J., Jenkins, D. J., Turner-McGrievy, G., Gloede, L., Jaster, B., Seidl, K., Green, A. A., & Talpers, S. (2006). A low-fat vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in a randomized clinical trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care29(8), 1777–1783. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc06-0606

British Dietetic Association. (2022). British Dietetic Association Confirms well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. Retrieved from https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/british-dietetic-association-confirms-well-planned-vegan-diets-can-support-healthy-living-in-people-of-all-ages.html

Craig, W. J., Mangels, A. R., & American Dietetic Association (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association109(7), 1266–1282. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.027

Escalante-Araiza, F., Rivera-Monroy, G., Loza-López, C. E., & Gutiérrez-Salmeán, G. (2022). The effect of plant-based diets on meta-inflammation and associated cardiometabolic disorders: a review. Nutrition reviews, nuac020. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuac020

Fuhrman, J., & Ferreri, D. M. (2010). Fueling the vegetarian (vegan) athlete. Current sports medicine reports9(4), 233–241. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181e93a6f

Greger M. (2020). A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Is Effective for Weight Loss: The Evidence. American journal of lifestyle medicine14(5), 500–510. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827620912400

Kahleova, H., Petersen, K. F., Shulman, G. I., Alwarith, J., Rembert, E., Tura, A., Hill, M., Holubkov, R., & Barnard, N. D. (2020). Effect of a Low-Fat Vegan Diet on Body Weight, Insulin Sensitivity, Postprandial Metabolism, and Intramyocellular and Hepatocellular Lipid Levels in Overweight Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA network open3(11), e2025454. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25454

Lee, Y. M., Kim, S. A., Lee, I. K., Kim, J. G., Park, K. G., Jeong, J. Y., Jeon, J. H., Shin, J. Y., & Lee, D. H. (2016). Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. PloS one11(6), e0155918. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155918

Lynch, H. M., Buman, M. P., Dickinson, J. M., Ransdell, L. B., Johnston, C. S., & Wharton, C. M. (2020). No Significant Differences in Muscle Growth and Strength Development When Consuming Soy and Whey Protein Supplements Matched for Leucine Following a 12 Week Resistance Training Program in Men and Women: A Randomized Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health17(11), 3871. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17113871

Lynch, H., Johnston, C., & Wharton, C. (2018). Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance. Nutrients10(12), 1841. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121841

Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(12), 1970–1980. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025

Merino, J., Joshi, A. D., Nguyen, L. H., Leeming, E. R., Mazidi, M., Drew, D. A., Gibson, R., Graham, M. S., Lo, C. H., Capdevila, J., Murray, B., Hu, C., Selvachandran, S., Hammers, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Sharma, S. V., Sudre, C., Astley, C. M., Chavarro, J. E., Kwon, S., … Chan, A. T. (2021). Diet quality and risk and severity of COVID-19: a prospective cohort study. Gut70(11), 2096–2104. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325353

Oikonomidou, A. C., Dardavesis, T. I., Williams, J., Wickramasinghe, K., Breda, J., & Chourdakis, M. (2021). Intake and adequacy of the vegan diet. A systematic review of the evidence. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland)40(5), 3503–3521. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.035

Satija, A., & Hu, F. B. (2018). Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends in cardiovascular medicine28(7), 437–441. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcm.2018.02.004

Wright, N., Wilson, L., Smith, M., Duncan, B., & McHugh, P. (2017). The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes. Nutrition & diabetes7(3), e256. https://doi.org/10.1038/nutd.2017.3