Nutrition Guidelines Around the World Concur: Plant-Based Foods Help Treat and Prevent Disease

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In response to public discourse filled with conflicting dietary guidence, a recent study from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine reviewed nutrition guidelines from around the world to give practitioners clarity on the benefits of plant food groups.

The study, published in the journal, Advances in Nutrition, compared dozens of nutrition and dietary guidelines from a variety of sources and found close alignment on recommendations of plant food groups for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. According to the study’s researchers, fad diets and pseudo-expert advice on the internet has caused confusion among not only patients but also physicians, who often receive insufficient nutritional education in medical school.

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“Clinicians depend on clinical practice guidelines developed from the most current and rigorous medical research to help steer their diagnoses, treatment and management of common chronic diseases,” said study author, Beth Frates, MD, FACLM, DipABLM, ACLM president and clinical assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “The results of this comprehensive review of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines are important because they can benefit both clinicians and their patients by reducing the variability in dietary and nutrition guidance that often prevents clinicians from providing optimal care.”

For the investigation, researchers reviewed 78 clinical practice guidelines developed by governments, major medical professional societies, and large health stakeholder associations to improve the health of adults with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study’s primary focus was on dietary patterns, food groups, and food components. In addition, researchers analyzed macronutrient and micronutrient recommendations. 

Results from the analysis showed that for disease prevention and treatment, nearly three quarters of clinical practice guidelines suggested including or increasing intake of vegetables, which was the most recommended food group. None of the guidelines recommended excluding or reducing vegetables from a patients’ diet. Following vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes were the most commonly recommended foods. 

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Foods that the guidelines commonly said to avoid included red meat, processed meat, and refined whole grain. In addition, 62 percent of the guidelines recommended excluding, decreasing, or limiting alcohol consumption, 56 percent instructed that patients limit salt or sodium, and 35 percent suggested avoiding vegetable oil. 

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To study authors, these results indicate a consensus on the health benefits of plant-based foods among nutrition guidelines worldwide. Those benefits, they said, are now more important than ever as rates of obesity and related chronic conditions surge.

“The growing prevalence of overweight and obesity and the associated chronic conditions are a serious public health threat that must be urgently addressed,” said study author Kelly Cara, MS, doctoral student at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “Patients look to healthcare professionals for dietary guidance, so it is critical that physicians are fully informed and confident when offering recommendations to patients in order to provide the best outcomes. We hope the results of this study will assist physicians in developing the foundation of knowledge needed to achieve those outcomes.”