Review of PBHP UK’s top publications from 2021
It’s that time of year when I start to look back at the plant-based highlights of the year. This week I start with publications from the PBHP UK team in both popular and medical press.
SUPPORTING PATIENTS: Healthcare professionals have been called to action. The climate and ecological crisis is also a health crisis. One of the clear solutions is to adopt a plant-based diet and as trusted members of society, healthcare professionals are well placed to support this transition through their interactions with patients and their communities. However, we hear all the time that doctors and allied health professionals learn very little clinical nutrition in their training and even the nutrition and dietetic professions have curricula based about around the typical omnivorous diet, with plant-based diets only being discussed in the context of ‘restrictive diets’ and ‘risk of nutritional deficiencies’.
Health professionals don’t need to be experts, but we do need to understand the basics of a healthy, nutritionally adequate, plant-based diet. This article by Dr Laura Freeman, Dr Leila Dehghan and myself summarises some easy recommendations to support patients on their journey and sign posts to reputable resources (i.e. PBHP UK !).
PLANT-BASED DIET AND PSORIATIC ARTHRITIS: It was an honour to be able to publish the case history of PBHP UK’s patient advocate, Kate Dunbar. She has been able to manage psoriatic arthritis, achieving a remission and coming off medication, with a whole food plant-based diet. Not only that, she is now part of the vegan runners club and has run half marathons. Pretty remarkable.
Although the data supporting a plant-based diet for managing rheumatoid arthritis are stronger, there is no reason why it is not an optimal choice for psoriatic arthritis and indeed psoriasis alone. These conditions share in common underlying inflammation and disruption of the gut microbiome, both easily addressed with an anti-inflammatory, fibre-rich plant-based diet.
The paper is behind a paywall, but you can read Kate’s story here from our website. We hope it inspires others with psoriasis to just give it a go. Absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
TRANSITIONING TO A PLANT-BASED DIET: With some basic knowledge and skills, Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist, writes about the simplicity yet abundance of a whole food plant-based diet. This type of diet pattern is centred around a variety (that being key) of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and plenty of herbs and spices. Mainly water for thirst and tea and coffee if you enjoy it. You do of course need to understand where to obtain certain nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin B12, but all diet patterns need an element of thoughtful consideration and planning.
Along side Rohini’s article, you can take a look at our Plant-Based Eatwell guide, adapted from the UK dietary guideline, for a more in depth review. Then just take the plunge. You won’t regret it and you will benefit your long-term health no end.
TRANSITIONING FROM A VEGETARIAN TO A VEGAN DIET: I had a long vegetarian phase (too long in retrospect) but found transitioning to a vegan diet quite straight forward. In part, because the South Asian diet pattern is easily adapted to a whole food plant-based diet. In addition, once you have acknowledged the unnecessary cruelty of the egg and dairy industry, there is no going back. For some, removing dairy, particularly cheese, and eggs from the diet may seem a challenge.
Lisa Simon, RD gives a practical guide to swapping out eggs and dairy without feeling like you are missing out. There are so many milk, cheese and egg substitutes these day, both shop bought and recipes for home cooking. There really is no reasonable excuse not to make your diet cruelty free. You may even realise some benefits. Commonly reported ones are better skin, healthier weight, lower blood cholesterol and glucose, just to mention a few.
IMPROVING HEALTH OUTCOMES IN SOUTH ASIANS: Rohini Bajekal and I are passionate about supporting South Asians to reduce our high risk of chronic disease. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are at least twice as common is South Asians and occur a decade earlier than in Caucasian populations. India now has one of the highest and fastest rising rates of type 2 diabetes, with more than 10% of the population affected. A healthy plant-based diet is key to reducing this risk. Being vegetarian is clearly not enough. A whole food plant-based diet, low in added oil, salt and sugar is the optimal approach, whilst focusing on a variety of plant foods. Most South Asian diets have unfortunately become reliant on a handful of common foods and typically high in refined grains, sugar and oil (ghee). Interesting, India is now the largest producer of dairy in the world. This has been driven by industry influence and misleading advertising on the role of dairy in the diet. Given that the majority of the Indian population are lactose intolerant, this trend is rather nonsensical. In contrast, Indians in India are not eating enough fruit, vegetables and legumes.
Rohini and I were interviewed by the European Heart Journal about our work at PBHP UK and why it is so relevant to South Asian populations around the world.
REDUCING MEAT CONSUMPTION AND FOOD WASTE ARE IMPORTANT ISSUES: High income countries need to drastically reduce meat consumption to improve both human and planetary health. Food waste also remains a real issue globally, with around 30% of food wasted somewhere along the supply chain, with most wasted in our own homes. This is an area where we can all make a positive impact on the wider food system problems. Of course a plant-based diet is less wasteful in terms of land and water resource and also because you are going to the direct source of nutrients rather than using animals as a ‘go between’. The conversion of animal feed to final nutrients for humans is hugely inefficient.
This article by Leila Dehghan, Nutritionist, outlines some easy ways to reduce meat consumption and food waste, including tips on how to shop and store your food.
BENEFITS OF A WHOLE FOOD PLANT-BASED DIET: Although this information is well known to my audience, it’s great to have an evidence based article to share with friends, colleagues and family members. Dr Leila Dehghan, Nutritionist, provides a succinct summary of the numerous benefits of a healthy plant-based diets, also explaining the underlying mechanisms involved. The evidence is now overwhelming and largely undisputed. Supporting individuals and communities to implement this type of diet should be the focus of public health interventions.
IS A VEGAN DIET HEALTHY?: We commonly hear in the media that a vegan diet is unhealthy. One such article was published recently in the New Scientist. Veganism is a social justice movement that centres animals at its core. It is not a diet but an ethical position that avoids the consumption and use of animals. A vegan diet can therefore be healthy or unhealthy depending on its composition. There is no doubt that choosing a healthy vegan diet composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, whilst minimising added salt, sugar, oil and processed foods is one of the healthiest choices you can make. The overconsumption of processed foods is not a unique problem of a vegan diet, but all diet patterns. In the UK, more than 50% of purchases at the supermarket are classified as ultra-processed foods.
In this article, Rosie Martin, plant-based RD, provides an excellent summary on how to ensure a vegan diet is healthy and one that is going to maximise your chances of achieving your best health, whilst reducing the risk of chronic disease. We do not need to compromise personal health when living a life true to our ethical values.
VEGAN DIETS IN CHILDREN: This topic has been poorly covered in the mainstream media this year and now in a high impact medical journal. A BMJ journalist wrote about vegan diets for children referring to just one study of Polish vegans published in June 2021. Of course this study hit the mainstream media and I wrote about it in my weekly review on 13th June. It was disappointing that the author of BMJ article did not delve any deeper to provide a true reflection of the scientific literature. Despite the fact that vegans diets are deemed nutritionally adequate for all stages and ages of life, the article gives the impressive that a vegan diet may result in negative health outcomes for children. My rapid response tries to balance the article with a broader review of the available literature. Luckily its open access where as the original article is behind a paywall, thank goodness!
IF NOT NOW THEN WHEN, IF NOT YOU THEN WHO. We all need to play our part in finding our way out of the most critical crises of our lifetime. Health professionals are not exempt. We have entered the sixth mass extinction event and the process is accelerating as I write. Many have realised that they are going to have to become ‘activists’ in their own right, in order for the message to be heard loud and clear. True respect to organisations such as Doctors for XR who are using the tried and testing method of civil disobedience. We all thank you.
Our advocacy at PBHP UK focuses on a transition to a plant-based food system. In this article Dr Laura Freeman and I lay bare the facts and put out a call to action. We are so pleased that this is now in print in the December issue of the British Journal of General Practice.