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The Physicians Committee

Editorial: The Right Fuel for the Human Body








A new study shows that a low-fat, vegan diet controls diabetes more effectively than a more standard “diabetes diet.” The study was conducted by PCRM researchers working with the George Washington University and the University of Toronto, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. The results were published in Diabetes Care, a publication of the American Diabetes Association. 

Prior research had suggested that vegetarians are at considerably less risk of developing diabetes, compared with the general population. The new study shows that, in people with diabetes, a low-fat vegan diet reduces blood sugar to a greater degree than even common oral diabetes medications. It also effectively trims body weight and cholesterol.

A large body of research suggests that vegetarian and vegan diets are what the human body was designed for. In 1990, Dean Ornish showed that a vegetarian diet, along with other lifestyle changes, actually reverses heart disease. At the Cleveland Clinic, Caldwell Esselstyn showed that when a low-fat vegan diet is paired with judicious use of medications, even patients with a long history of heart disease become nearly heart-attack-proof. More recently, Dr. Ornish showed that a vegan diet works wonders for individuals with prostate cancer. In a study of 84 patients, the disease gradually worsened in the control group that made no diet changes, but improved overall for those who began a vegan diet. Studies show that vegetarians have about a 40 percent lower cancer risk, compared with omnivores. 

PCRM’s weight-loss study, published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2005, showed that a low-fat vegan diet is more effective at trimming waistlines than a more moderate low-fat diet. On average, the diet knocks off about one pound per week—week after week after week.

There are other benefits, too. Arthritis symptoms improve in roughly half of individuals who make the diet change. Migraines often improve or go away. Digestive problems get better. Of all the potential dietary contributors to acne, only one panned out in Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study: cow’s milk. The nice thing is, we don’t need one diet for one health problem and an entirely different diet prescription for the next problem. Getting away from animal fat, cholesterol, and animal protein helps the whole body.

Imagine a driver bringing his car to a mechanic. He complains that his car runs badly, stalls easily, gets terrible mileage, and puts out ugly-looking exhaust. After a few questions, the mechanic discovers that there is nothing wrong with the engine, transmission, or exhaust system. The problem is that the driver has been using diesel fuel, instead of the unleaded the car is designed for. After a tank or two of the right fuel, the car runs perfectly fine. Our bodies need the fuel they were designed for: vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.

Needless to say, people adopt vegetarian and vegan diets for many different reasons, from compassion to environmental concerns. The same diet that addresses these important issues is also the healthiest diet for the human body.

Neal Barnard signature
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM

Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

A large body of research suggests that vegetarian and vegan diets are what the human body was designed for.

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