Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease

The Western Diet:  A Crisis of Chronic Diseases

The population of the Western world is in general overfed, undernourished, fiber-deficient, nutrient-starved, overweight and suffering from chronic diseases. Chronic diseases have become a global epidemic, and the leading cause of disease and death is what people are eating – and are not – eating.

Chronic Disease Statistics in Denmark and Western Countries

In Denmark, 66% of the population aged 16 years or above have one or more chronic diseases. Danes aged 45-74 years have an average of 2.7 chronic diseases, while Danes aged 75 years or above have an average of 5.3 chronic diseases. This trend is also observed in other countries with a Western diet, and the trend is increasing.

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Chronic Diseases: Lifestyle Over Genetics

While some people may believe that chronic diseases like hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer are genetic and run in the family, a vast body of scientific evidence shows that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors can have a dramatic impact on preventing chronic diseases. Modifiable non-genetic risk factors such as diet, weight, activity, and smoking status account for more than 70% of the risk of stroke and colon cancer. More than 80% of coronary heart disease risk, and over 90% of the risk for type 2 diabetes. The choices people make in their everyday life have long-term health consequences – and food plays a critical role.

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease
Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet: A Proven Solution

Multiple studies have shown that following a whole-food plant-based diet reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases. One study of over 200,000 participants found that those who followed a whole-food plant-based diet had a 25% lower risk of developing heart disease. Another study found that following a whole-food plant-based diet for just eight weeks resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

The Gut Microbiome and Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases, a group of chronic diseases that occur when the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells, tissues, and organs, have also been linked to diet and the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, viruses, archaea, and fungi that live in our digestive tract, and it plays a vital role in our body. A growing body of evidence suggests that the gut microbiome plays a critical role in regulating immune function, and alterations in the gut microbiome may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases. 

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease

A diet that includes a wide variety of plants leads to a more diverse population of gut microbes, which is associated with better health.

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease

Mental Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

The benefits of a whole-food plant-based diet are not limited to physical health. A recent study found that following a whole-food plant-based diet was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety in adults.

Treatment for Existing Chronic Diseases

For people who already have chronic diseases, numerous studies support the use of a whole-food plant-based dietary pattern as a treatment for diet-related chronic diseases.

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet and Chronic Disease

WHO Recommendation: A Shift Toward Plant-Based Diets

Increasing the consumption of plant-based foods is a viable option for individuals looking to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of chronic diseases. In fact, WHO now recommends shifting entire populations towards healthy plant-based diets that reduce or eliminate intake of animal products in order to improve human as well as planetary health.

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