by James Matthew Rhinewalt, M.D.
James Matthew Rhinewalt, M.D., is a board-certified internist and pediatrician at Internal Medicine & Pediatric Clinic in New Albany, Mississippi
The beginning of a new year usually brings with it the same resolution: lose weight and get healthy. And with so much information at our fingertips, determining what “healthy” means and how to get started can be overwhelming. Sometimes it’s not new year’s, though; An annual physical lets you know changes need to happen, and when this situation occurs with my own patients, I look to my life to let them know what has worked for me.
In 2018, I attended a session at a medical conference that focused on the health benefits of a plant-based diet over more common, traditional American diets. The session piqued my interest, and after researching, I discovered numerous studies that support what I heard at the conference: A plant-focused diet has the potential to function as well as, or possibly better, than some medications to improve a patient’s health. And while I am certainly not telling you to stop your medications, I would encourage you to research plant-based diets for yourself and with your healthcare provider.
What does the research tell us? From a cardiovascular standpoint, an animal-based diet increases cholesterol, inflammation, and a toxin associated with blood vessel plaque formation. Making the change to a plant-based diet has the potential to drop your cholesterol up to 35%. It also reduces laboratory markers of systemic inflammation and lowers (or eliminates if 100% vegan) a toxin (called TMAO) that is linked to blood vessel plaque formation. In addition, processed meats increase insulin resistance, the cause of type 2 diabetes, and are associated with the development of certain cancers.
Since that medical conference, I have been on a mostly plant-focused diet. This has led to weight loss, improvement in both my “good” and “bad” cholesterol, digestion, and overall sense of well-being. I also recommend a plant-based diet to my patients. Discontinuing medications on patients who have improved their health with diet, exercise and weight loss is definitely one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job as a physician.
Changing your diet can be overwhelming. Start small, such as making spaghetti with whole grain noodles and without meat. Add some extra-finely chopped veggies (such as squash or zucchini) to add flavor to the sauce. Many favorite soups can be made without meat or dairy and still taste good. When choosing bread, avoid “enriched grains” and look for whole grain options instead. Substitute your usual lunch or dinner with a great salad a few days a week. Snack on a piece of fruit instead of a bag of chips. Choose hummus dip with veggies instead of chips and cheese dip. These are just a few suggestions to begin eliminating animal fats from your diet.
According to Mark Twain’s rules for longevity, “Eat whatever you want and let ’em fight it out among themselves inside.” And while Twain always could tell a good story, science and research disagrees with him here: A plant-based diet will likely always win the fight.
What to eat:
- Whole grains
What to limit:
What to avoid:
- Processed meat
- Refined grains
- Added sugars
- Ultra-processed foods