Plant-Based Diet Improves Metabolism and Reduces Diabetes and Heart Health Risks

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Sticking to plant-based diets can result in weight loss, increased after-meal calorie burn, and reduced factors of cardiometabolic risks. This is backed up by the study of researchers of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published in JAMA Network Open.

Overweight participants with no history of diabetes were assigned to intervention and control groups. The participants didn’t engage in exercise or take medications unless specified by their physicians. The control group was observed for the same duration of time without making any changes in their diet.

Improved Calorie Burn After Meals

The intervention group was introduced to a plant-based diet with no calorie limit for 16 weeks. To measure how many calories were burned post-meals at the onset and the end of the study, indirect calorimetry was used.

The calorie burn recorded for the plant-based group has an increase of 18.7% on average. On the other hand, no significant changes were observed in the after-meal burn of the control group.

As the study author and director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee, Dr. Hana Kahleova stated, “These findings are groundbreaking for the 160 million Americans struggling with overweight and obesity.” She added that burning more after-meal calories can create a remarkable difference in weight management when done for a long time.

Fat Reduction in Muscle and Liver Cells

Drs. Kitt Petersen and Gerald Shulman of Yale University worked with the team to use magnetic resonance spectroscopy.  This process aims to monitor the changes in intramyocellular and hepatocellular lipids in a subset of participants. These types of lipids stored as droplets in the cells of the muscle and liver are associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

Participants who were under the plant-based diet showed a reduction in the fat in the liver cells by 34 percent and in the muscle cells by 10 percent. The control group showed no significant changes in the fat reduction in their muscle and liver cells.

Dr. Kahleova explained that accumulated fat in liver and muscle cells interferes with the insulin’s ability to transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. The study participants that were placed under a low-fat and plant-based diet have reduced fat. This means that they are less exposed to risks of type 2 diabetes development.

Improvements in Cardiometabolic Factors

Dr. Kahleova added that not only were the plant-based participants able to lose weight. Cardiometabolic improvements were observed and this means that these people are less vulnerable to health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

One study participant, Sam T., was motivated by the results. He shared that he plans to stick to a plant-based diet for life. This is after he shed off 34 pounds and increased his metabolism rate in the 16 weeks of the study. Sam now maintains a plant-based diet and engages in running marathons to stay healthy.

Plant-Based Diet Benefits in 16 Weeks

Throughout the study, the plant-based participants improved their insulin sensitivity. Moreover, they were able to decrease the following:

  • fasting plasma insulin concentration by 21.6 pmol/L
  • Total cholesterol by 19.3 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol by 15.5 mg/dL
  • Body weight by 6.4 kg

The participants who made no changes in their diet during the study were not able to reap the same benefits. This shows that your eating choices can either make you less or more prone to health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

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