A poor diet can lead to numerous chronic diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Most people know eating healthy is important, but in this “supersized” world it can be difficult to find a nutritious diet that is sustainable.
When a system of group-based, hands-on interventions is used to guide people to transition to plant-based nutrition, it effectively changes a repetitive pattern of unhealthy eating into a healthy lifestyle. This type of diet benefits patients with coronary artery disease, as well as those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer, such as prostate, breast, and colon. In addition to nutritional guidance, lifestyle interventions incorporate education in culinary techniques, physical activity, and stress management approaches of therapeutic yoga and behavioral health coaching to improve outcomes for patients at risk and those who already have common chronic diseases.
About the Speaker
Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD is the Medical Director for the Center for Lifestyle Medicine and specializes in lifestyle medicine, cardiovascular disease reversal, integrative medicine approaches to lifestyle-related cancer management. Dr. Golubic graduated from University of Zagreb School of Medicine and went to complete his doctorate at Sveuciliste u Zagrebu. He has also worked as a project scientist at Cleveland Clinic in molecular biology, neurosurgery and integrative medicine and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Huron Hospital.
Let’s Chat About Benefits of Plant-based Diets
Moderator: Welcome to our chat today with Cleveland Clinic expert Dr. Mladen Golubic. We are thrilled to have him here with us to share his knowledge about the benefits of plant-based diets.
Let’s begin with your questions.
Starting a Plant-based Diet
LucyintheSkies: How do I begin to make a change to a plant-based diet? What behaviors do I need to improve in order to stick with it? I am starting from scratch, and enjoy sugars, carbohydrates and meats. It is going to be a major life change for me, but I have arthritis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol (the latter two conditions are controlled with medications). The arthritis in my hands is painful and anti-inflammatory medications are not helping.
Mladen_Golubic,_MD,_PhD: Think evolution rather than revolution. Introduce one new, plant-based recipe per month, and in a year you have great ideas for eating for two weeks. Identify one or two types of breakfast you can eat on most days. Replace all of the simple carbohydrates, breads and pastas with 100 percent whole grain product. Add beans to your salads and eat more vegetables.
Any change requires some effort. If you want a different result, i.e. better health, you have to be willing to introduce changes that may be uncomfortable at first. Our taste buds do not like change. So, essentially you have to educate your taste buds and do this with a mindfulness and sense of purpose when you are changing your diet. If you stay long enough, one month or two off of addictive sugars and fats (and salt as well), you will stop craving those altogether. Just take the first step in your mind that you want to change to a plant-based diet if you have a sense that such changes will benefit you.
Plant-based Diet with Associated Medical Conditions
Alan_b: I have begun researching plant-based diets (like DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension]) to deal with kidney stones, and struggling with what I can and cannot eat. How can you eat healthy when there’s so much they’re asking you to stay away from? This includes dark fruits and vegetables (berries, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans and nuts). It’s very confusing and frustrating.
Mladen_Golubic,_MD,_PhD: In our therapeutic lifestyle medicine programs, the Dean Ornish, MD program for reversing heart disease, and the Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr, MD program, we have had patients who had kidney or other problems besides coronary artery disease or other food restrictions, such as food allergies or celiac disease. With close nutritional guidance and monitoring, these patients were able to eat a heart-healthy diet and improve the functions of other organs, such as the kidney or liver. Not all vegetables, grains and legumes are equal. Variety is the key and finding those that you can eat. So, my advice would be that you work with a dietitian and explore types of foods that you may normally not consider. Also, paying attention to fluid intake is a good idea.
Social Response to Plant-based Diet
writer53: In the China Study, T. Colin Campbell, PhD emphasizes that a plant-based diet is the best way to prevent cancer, inflammation, and a host of other diseases. Some naturopaths, however, emphasize the Paleo-Mediterranean diet as the best way to build health and prevent disease. My daughter has a rare autoimmune disease and emphasizes plants and vegetables in her diet, but is not a purest. (She is neither vegan nor vegetarian.)
- If a plant-based diet is the key to health, why is this not taught in medical school and ingrained into our culture through our medical, educational, social and other institutions?
- Why are sugar, refined carbohydrates, excessive fats, etc. culturally condoned if these are actually responsible for escalating the current healthcare crisis?
- Do you foresee an eventual wedding of Western medicine and integrative/ complementary/ alternative medicine with its emphasis on substantive dietary change?
- How long are we going to keep playing this game of preaching health while living as we please?
Mladen_Golubic,_MD,_PhD: To answer your questions:
- The therapeutic potential of diet and other lifestyle factors is not yet recognized as important enough to be prominent in the education of medical students, residents and fellows mostly because the nature of scientific evidence is weaker than for medications (i.e., you cannot do a “blinded” study of patients by not revealing the source of a food, like you can blind a patient to the drug). But, as more data are gathered and more people experience benefits, this will start to change. It is hard to present the case that education of medical professionals should have more hours of study concerning the healing effects of foods and omit education about genomics for instance.
- There are strong economic interests behind sugar. Also, sugared foods are so loved by many people so there isn’t a push for the removal of sugar from foods. Sugary foods are nice way to self-medicate chronic psychological stress, for example. This may produce short-term relief, but results in long-term problems.
- Yes, I do see a marriage of Western medicine and integrative/ complementary/ alternative medicine with its emphasis on substantive dietary change. The more we learn about the healing power of our everyday food choices, the change will occur when people get more educated. It will be mostly driven by people like you who care about their health and the wellbeing of society at large.
- The change needs to start with health professionals. As an example, it is clear to everyone that I will not be very effective at convincing you to stop smoking if I also continued to smoke. Likewise, medical professionals who do not eat well or are not physically active will have hard time convincing their patients to do the same. Better farm policies, taxing sugar (just like cigarettes), and having good options on restaurant menus will need to happen. Some of the positive changes are already under way.
Dietary Changes for the Busy Family
Madler4: How can I move my family to a healthier eating lifestyle. I am a single mother with four children and a parent living with me. We are always on the run.
Mladen_Golubic,_MD,_PhD: That will be a more difficult task considering your situation than for an average person, but you can still eat healthier. Make sure that you always have available 100 percent whole grain products, and easy-to-use snacks such as hummus or guacamole. You can buy pre-washed and cut vegetables, either fresh or frozen. You can cook the grains, such as quinoa or brown rice, ahead of use and have them ready in your refrigerator. It is also helpful to have a variety of canned beans available so that you can quickly fix a healthy salad, soup or main dish. Depending upon the age of your children, you can engage them in the meal preparation making it a fun family activity! Make sure that you have pre-cut fruit in your refrigerator ready for your kids to grab-and-go.