Plant-based diets can significantly boost fat burning and lower diabetes risk

WASHINGTON — For people thinking about a new diet in 2021, a new study finds overweight individuals might want to think about leaving meat behind in 2020. Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine say a plant-based, low-fat vegan diet can significantly boost fat burning abilities and trigger weight loss.

In a 16-week study of overweight dieters with no history of diabetes, researchers split the participants into two groups. One group switched to a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes with no daily calorie limit. The other group continued to eat the same way they had been, serving as a control.

The study focused on diet alone, none of the participants made any changes to their exercise or medication routines. The results reveal plant-based dieters raised their after-meal calorie burns by an average of 18.7 percent.

“These findings are groundbreaking for the 160 million Americans struggling with overweight and obesity,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, in a media release. “Over the course of years and decades, burning more calories after every meal can make a significant difference in weight management.”

Plant-based diet leads to weight loss, ‘cardiometabolic improvements’

In 16 weeks, participants opting for the vegan diet dropped an average of 14 pounds compared to the control group. These dieters also experienced noticeable drops in both fat mass and visceral fat volume. This second factor is the amount of fat that surrounds a person’s organs.

The study also teamed with researchers from Yale University to track fat levels in the liver and muscles of participants. People eating a plant-based diet saw their level of fat in the liver decrease by 34 percent. Fat in the muscle cells dropped by 10 percent. Study authors call these changes major improvements, as fat in these cells have a link to insulin resistance and diabetes.

“When fat builds up in liver and muscle cells, it interferes with insulin’s ability to move glucose out from the bloodstream and into the cells,” Dr. Kahleova adds. “After just 16 weeks on a low-fat, plant-based diet, study participants reduced the fat in their cells and lowered their chances for developing type 2 diabetes.”

The results also reveal a link between stored fat and insulin resistance. People on the vegan diet experienced both decreased insulin resistance and increased insulin sensitivity during the 16 weeks. Total and LDL cholesterol dropped by 19.3 mg/dL and 15.5 mg/dL, respectively as well.

“Not only did the plant-based group lose weight, but they experienced cardiometabolic improvements that will reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems,” Dr. Kahleova concludes.

The study appears in JAMA Network Open.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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