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Eating plants can help your clients live longer and healthier

Article
January 10, 2022
By
Jiří Kaloč

Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease...

Highlights

  • Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers
  • Replacing animal protein with plant-based protein is linked with a lower risk of premature death
  • Plant-based diets may stimulate metabolic pathways connected to longevity

Introduction

Plant-based diets have been gaining in popularity for a variety of reasons, but improved health and longevity are certainly at the top of the list. Your clients can also benefit from this lifestyle, and we will show you how to coach them to get the most out of it. Plant-based is an umbrella term for vegan, vegetarian, as well as other eating patterns that simply reduce meat and animal products in favor of more plants. All plant-based diets share staples such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits but they vary in the inclusion of animal-based foods.

Plant-based diets lower the risk of disease

The advantage of plant-based diets is that they are very well documented. We have several decades of research looking at their impact on human health. The range of benefits when it comes to disease risk is quite impressive, it goes from weight management to lowering the risk of cancer. Plant-based diets are associated with lowering the following risks:

  • Obesity and related inflammatory markers
  • Hyperglycaemia
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia

They are also regularly associated with reducing medication needs when treating high cholesterol and diabetes. Most notably, they are linked with lower mortality from ischemic heart disease and even reversing early-stage cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (1). Other research shows benefits outside of metabolism-related disease. Studies show a connection with reduced risk of dementia, gallstones, diverticular disease, and even some cancers (2).

How do plants reduce disease risk?

Plant-based diets offer such a wide range of health benefits for several reasons. In contrast with the typical Western pattern diet, they provide a lot more beneficial nutrients and encourage limiting harmful food groups. Also, they typically come with other healthy habits. Let’s explore these further.

The consumption of processed meat such as sausages, hot dogs, or bacon is closely associated with an increased risk of colorectal and several other types of cancer (3). Plant-based diets significantly reduce or, in most cases, completely eliminate this food group. Even minimally processed animal products can be problematic as they are a major source of saturated fat which is considered a heart disease risk factor. Plant-based diets make it much easier to stay within the recommended limit for saturated fat. It’s also notable that cooking meat and other animal foods at high temperatures forms compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and advanced glycation end products which are associated with increased cancer risk (1).

There are two types of nutrients that animal foods can’t offer - fiber and phytonutrients. Plants are abundant in both. Fiber offers protection of the gastrointestinal and immune systems by boosting the production of beneficial bacteria. It can also contribute to heart health by lowering cholesterol. Phytonutrients are compounds such as carotenoids or flavonoids that act as antioxidants, reducing oxidative damage to cells which can be protective against disease progression (1).

It is important to note that much of the research on vegetarian, vegan, and other plant-based diets is observational. These types of studies follow people who self-select what type of food they want to eat. People who choose to include more vegetables and fruit and less processed meat often tend to have an overall healthier lifestyle. They are more likely to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, and less likely to smoke or drink alcohol.

The connection between eating plants and longevity

Plant-based diets are showing promise when it comes to extending the expected lifespan. There are several lines of research looking at mechanisms that could favor plant protein over animal protein for adding years to our lives.

When it comes to nutrition, calorie restriction has been shown to promote metabolic processes tied to longevity. The problem is that we are unable to sustain calorie restriction long-term. Research suggests that plant-based diets can bring some of the same benefits without the need to limit calories. The key is the different amino acid makeup of plant proteins compared to animal proteins.

Plants are lower in several amino acids such as lysine, tryptophan, leucine, or methionine. Reduced intake of these amino acids can inhibit the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway and the growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) axis. Both of these play a role in cell growth and cancer and diabetes development. It also activates sirtuins, a family of signaling proteins involved in regulating the aging and death of cells and their resistance to stress. More research is needed in this area but the current cellular and mechanistic studies are promising for plant-based protein (1).

Plant protein is associated with a lower risk of premature death

Plant-based diets can contribute to longevity thanks to protein. Two large studies show that replacing animal protein with plant protein is associated with longer life. The first study from Harvard and Tehran University looked at 32 studies about protein intake that included over 715,000 people. It concluded that getting 3% more of total calories in the form of plant protein lowered people's risk for premature death by 5% (4). The second study from the National Cancer Institute of America looked at more than 416,000 people and found that replacing 3% of calorie intake from animal protein with plant protein corresponded with a 10% decrease in death from any cause (5).

These findings provide further evidence that prioritizing plant protein could have a positive effect on lifespan. These findings also correspond to what we see in the Blue Zones, regions of the world where people routinely live to be 100 years old. People from these areas consume meat only about once a week and in small portion sizes (6). They mostly choose free-range chicken and family-farmed pork or lamb. Their approach could be considered a plant-based diet if we compare it to a typical Western pattern diet that includes meat multiple times every day.

The diet is only as good as the plants in it

Plant-based diets work best when whole or minimally processed plants make us the majority. Switching to highly processed junk food plant-based diets likely negates many of the highlighted benefits. In fact, research shows that nutrient-poor plant-based diets may even lower life expectancy. It’s important to keep in mind that the absence of animal-based ingredients doesn’t automatically make a meal healthy. Fried fake-meats, sugary beverages, vegan ice cream, snacks high in added sugar, deep-fried veggie chips, and dishes rich in refined flour and oils should be kept to a minimum.

A study from 2018 revealed that while plant-based diets may lower your risk of dying from heart disease by 8% on average, healthful plant-based diets lower the risk by 25% and unhealthful plant-based diets increase it by 32% (7). A different study from 2019 suggests that improving the quality of a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of premature death by 10% over 12 years and reducing its quality may result in a 12% higher risk (8).

Conclusion

Plant-based diets are a powerful tool for nutritionists or wellness coaches interested in longevity. They are an excellent choice in light of disease risk reduction, mortality reduction, and lifespan extension described here. If you guide your clients to a well-formulated diet rich in whole or minimally processed plants, they can enjoy many of these benefits. It’s important to encourage them to give it a try. Here are several recommendations for introducing the plant-based diet in your practice.

Recommendations

  • Actively suggest a plant-based diet to clients that have a family history or are actively dealing with heart disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, or obesity.
  • Engage with clients who are interested in vegetarian or vegan diets and educate them about the longevity implications of going plant-based.
  • Explain that plant-based diets can be just as enjoyable and tasty as many others. Suggest relevant websites for recipes and highlight healthful plant-based restaurant choices.
  • Stress the importance of the quality of plant-based diets. Highlight the benefits of choosing nutritious whole plant foods and the dangers of succumbing to highly processed plant foods.
  • Talk about lifestyle as a whole and what other habits can enhance the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet.

References:

(1)    Julieanna Hever, Raymond J Cronise. Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology (2017) 14: 355368

(2)    John D. Grant MD. Food for thought … and health Making a case for plant-based nutrition. Can Fam Physician 2012; 58:917-9

(3)    David A. Sinclair, PhD. Plant-Based Diets and Longevity. Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To. 2020; 10.1089/act.2020.29279.das

(4)    Sina Naghshi, Omid Sadeghi, Walter C Willett, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh. Dietary intake of total, animal, and plant proteins and risk of all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2020 Jul 22;370:m2412. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2412.

(5)    Jiaqi Huang, Linda M. Liao, Stephanie J. Weinstein, et al. Association Between Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Sep 1;180(9):1173-1184. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.2790.

(6)    Dan Buettner, BA and Sam Skemp. Blue Zones Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Sep-Oct; 10(5): 318–321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066

(7)    Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Donna Spiegelman, Stephanie E. Chiuve, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter Willett, et al. Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Jul 25; 70(4): 411–422. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

(8)    Megu Y Baden, Gang Liu, Ambika Satija, Yanping Li, Qi Sun, Teresa T Fung, et al. Changes in Plant-Based Diet Quality and Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. Circulation. 2019 Sep 17;140(12):979-991. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.041014.


Highlights

  • Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers
  • Replacing animal protein with plant-based protein is linked with a lower risk of premature death
  • Plant-based diets may stimulate metabolic pathways connected to longevity

Introduction

Plant-based diets have been gaining in popularity for a variety of reasons, but improved health and longevity are certainly at the top of the list. Your clients can also benefit from this lifestyle, and we will show you how to coach them to get the most out of it. Plant-based is an umbrella term for vegan, vegetarian, as well as other eating patterns that simply reduce meat and animal products in favor of more plants. All plant-based diets share staples such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits but they vary in the inclusion of animal-based foods.

Plant-based diets lower the risk of disease

The advantage of plant-based diets is that they are very well documented. We have several decades of research looking at their impact on human health. The range of benefits when it comes to disease risk is quite impressive, it goes from weight management to lowering the risk of cancer. Plant-based diets are associated with lowering the following risks:

  • Obesity and related inflammatory markers
  • Hyperglycaemia
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia

They are also regularly associated with reducing medication needs when treating high cholesterol and diabetes. Most notably, they are linked with lower mortality from ischemic heart disease and even reversing early-stage cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (1). Other research shows benefits outside of metabolism-related disease. Studies show a connection with reduced risk of dementia, gallstones, diverticular disease, and even some cancers (2).

How do plants reduce disease risk?

Plant-based diets offer such a wide range of health benefits for several reasons. In contrast with the typical Western pattern diet, they provide a lot more beneficial nutrients and encourage limiting harmful food groups. Also, they typically come with other healthy habits. Let’s explore these further.

The consumption of processed meat such as sausages, hot dogs, or bacon is closely associated with an increased risk of colorectal and several other types of cancer (3). Plant-based diets significantly reduce or, in most cases, completely eliminate this food group. Even minimally processed animal products can be problematic as they are a major source of saturated fat which is considered a heart disease risk factor. Plant-based diets make it much easier to stay within the recommended limit for saturated fat. It’s also notable that cooking meat and other animal foods at high temperatures forms compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and advanced glycation end products which are associated with increased cancer risk (1).

There are two types of nutrients that animal foods can’t offer - fiber and phytonutrients. Plants are abundant in both. Fiber offers protection of the gastrointestinal and immune systems by boosting the production of beneficial bacteria. It can also contribute to heart health by lowering cholesterol. Phytonutrients are compounds such as carotenoids or flavonoids that act as antioxidants, reducing oxidative damage to cells which can be protective against disease progression (1).

It is important to note that much of the research on vegetarian, vegan, and other plant-based diets is observational. These types of studies follow people who self-select what type of food they want to eat. People who choose to include more vegetables and fruit and less processed meat often tend to have an overall healthier lifestyle. They are more likely to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, and less likely to smoke or drink alcohol.

The connection between eating plants and longevity

Plant-based diets are showing promise when it comes to extending the expected lifespan. There are several lines of research looking at mechanisms that could favor plant protein over animal protein for adding years to our lives.

When it comes to nutrition, calorie restriction has been shown to promote metabolic processes tied to longevity. The problem is that we are unable to sustain calorie restriction long-term. Research suggests that plant-based diets can bring some of the same benefits without the need to limit calories. The key is the different amino acid makeup of plant proteins compared to animal proteins.

Plants are lower in several amino acids such as lysine, tryptophan, leucine, or methionine. Reduced intake of these amino acids can inhibit the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway and the growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) axis. Both of these play a role in cell growth and cancer and diabetes development. It also activates sirtuins, a family of signaling proteins involved in regulating the aging and death of cells and their resistance to stress. More research is needed in this area but the current cellular and mechanistic studies are promising for plant-based protein (1).

Plant protein is associated with a lower risk of premature death

Plant-based diets can contribute to longevity thanks to protein. Two large studies show that replacing animal protein with plant protein is associated with longer life. The first study from Harvard and Tehran University looked at 32 studies about protein intake that included over 715,000 people. It concluded that getting 3% more of total calories in the form of plant protein lowered people's risk for premature death by 5% (4). The second study from the National Cancer Institute of America looked at more than 416,000 people and found that replacing 3% of calorie intake from animal protein with plant protein corresponded with a 10% decrease in death from any cause (5).

These findings provide further evidence that prioritizing plant protein could have a positive effect on lifespan. These findings also correspond to what we see in the Blue Zones, regions of the world where people routinely live to be 100 years old. People from these areas consume meat only about once a week and in small portion sizes (6). They mostly choose free-range chicken and family-farmed pork or lamb. Their approach could be considered a plant-based diet if we compare it to a typical Western pattern diet that includes meat multiple times every day.

The diet is only as good as the plants in it

Plant-based diets work best when whole or minimally processed plants make us the majority. Switching to highly processed junk food plant-based diets likely negates many of the highlighted benefits. In fact, research shows that nutrient-poor plant-based diets may even lower life expectancy. It’s important to keep in mind that the absence of animal-based ingredients doesn’t automatically make a meal healthy. Fried fake-meats, sugary beverages, vegan ice cream, snacks high in added sugar, deep-fried veggie chips, and dishes rich in refined flour and oils should be kept to a minimum.

A study from 2018 revealed that while plant-based diets may lower your risk of dying from heart disease by 8% on average, healthful plant-based diets lower the risk by 25% and unhealthful plant-based diets increase it by 32% (7). A different study from 2019 suggests that improving the quality of a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of premature death by 10% over 12 years and reducing its quality may result in a 12% higher risk (8).

Conclusion

Plant-based diets are a powerful tool for nutritionists or wellness coaches interested in longevity. They are an excellent choice in light of disease risk reduction, mortality reduction, and lifespan extension described here. If you guide your clients to a well-formulated diet rich in whole or minimally processed plants, they can enjoy many of these benefits. It’s important to encourage them to give it a try. Here are several recommendations for introducing the plant-based diet in your practice.

Recommendations

  • Actively suggest a plant-based diet to clients that have a family history or are actively dealing with heart disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, or obesity.
  • Engage with clients who are interested in vegetarian or vegan diets and educate them about the longevity implications of going plant-based.
  • Explain that plant-based diets can be just as enjoyable and tasty as many others. Suggest relevant websites for recipes and highlight healthful plant-based restaurant choices.
  • Stress the importance of the quality of plant-based diets. Highlight the benefits of choosing nutritious whole plant foods and the dangers of succumbing to highly processed plant foods.
  • Talk about lifestyle as a whole and what other habits can enhance the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet.

References:

(1)    Julieanna Hever, Raymond J Cronise. Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology (2017) 14: 355368

(2)    John D. Grant MD. Food for thought … and health Making a case for plant-based nutrition. Can Fam Physician 2012; 58:917-9

(3)    David A. Sinclair, PhD. Plant-Based Diets and Longevity. Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To. 2020; 10.1089/act.2020.29279.das

(4)    Sina Naghshi, Omid Sadeghi, Walter C Willett, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh. Dietary intake of total, animal, and plant proteins and risk of all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2020 Jul 22;370:m2412. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2412.

(5)    Jiaqi Huang, Linda M. Liao, Stephanie J. Weinstein, et al. Association Between Plant and Animal Protein Intake and Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Sep 1;180(9):1173-1184. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.2790.

(6)    Dan Buettner, BA and Sam Skemp. Blue Zones Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Sep-Oct; 10(5): 318–321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066

(7)    Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Donna Spiegelman, Stephanie E. Chiuve, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter Willett, et al. Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Jul 25; 70(4): 411–422. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

(8)    Megu Y Baden, Gang Liu, Ambika Satija, Yanping Li, Qi Sun, Teresa T Fung, et al. Changes in Plant-Based Diet Quality and Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. Circulation. 2019 Sep 17;140(12):979-991. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.041014.


Article reviewed by
Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.
SCIENTIFIC & MEDICAL ADVISOR
Quality Garant
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Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.

Scientific & Medical Advisor
Quality Garant

Ana has over 20 years of consultancy experience in longevity, regenerative and precision medicine. She has a multifaceted understanding of genomics, molecular biology, clinical biochemistry, nutrition, aging markers, hormones and physical training. This background allows her to bridge the gap between longevity basic sciences and evidence-based real interventions, putting them into the clinic, to enhance the healthy aging of people. She is co-founder of Origen.life, and Longevityzone. Board member at Breath of Health, BioOx and American Board of Clinical Nutrition. She is Director of International Medical Education of the American College of Integrative Medicine, Professor in IL3 Master of Longevity at Barcelona University and Professor of Nutrigenomics in Nutrition Grade in UNIR University.

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