Though there’s a strong link between diet and chronic disease, many individuals still don’t take the steps necessary to prevent or manage health conditions by eating nutritious foods. Yet, the tides may be turning, as awareness of this association grows and diet industry experts project a rise of interest in plant-based eating, which is sometimes referred to as a vegan or vegetarian diet.
A 2018 Nielsen study commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association revealed that sales of plant-based foods (think veggie noodles and cheese alternatives) increased by nearly 20 percent in the last 52 weeks of 2018. Plus, Google Trends data show a relatively steady increase in searches for the term “plant-based diet” over the past year. One reason the Google data suggest for this is: the popularity of the Netflix documentary “Game Changers,” which highlights the scientific perks of eating plants for improving athletic performance.
Because there is also a wealth of research links plant-based eating to lower weight and risk for disease as well, it’s an eating-pattern shift that many healthcare professionals are welcoming. And, in conjunction with this trend, there is also a growing interest in careers in nutrition, including health coaching, to help individuals adhere to eating approaches like a plant-based diet.
What does a high-quality diet look like?
Currently, more than two in three U.S. adults are obese or overweight, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
An analysis of 33 past randomized controlled trials suggested that following a vegan or vegetarian diet may alter gut bacteria in a way that improves metabolic and potentially cognitive health.
Though more studies will be needed to tell whether that’s so, one thing is certain: proper nutrition is critical. The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americanscalls for eating plenty of whole foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts, while minimizing added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
The NIDDK also notes on its website that many health conditions can result from being overweight or obese — including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And following a healthy diet is a key habit for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Getting healthcare professionals on board
But, despite the obvious benefits, Americans still aren’t eating enough plants.
According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 percent of adults in the United States consumed fruit less than once daily, and 19 percent consumed veggies less than once daily. For children, the intake is even lower, at 40 and 41 percent, respectively.
Physicians may not be effectively communicating the importance of nutrition during appointments. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average number of hours that medical students undergo nutrition training is 19, or fewer than the recommended 25. A 2013 survey suggested that 71 percent of schools didn’t meet that 25-hour requirement, per the AHA.
Fortunately, healthcare professionals can educate themselves, and patients can advocate for themselves and their children in the doctor’s office.
Also, many insurance plans cover nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian nutritionist if specialist care, say, for managing a certain health condition like reducing obesity, is needed.
For those whom nutrition is already a passion, health coaching can provide an avenue for informing others of the perks of healthy eating. By one estimate, the health coach industry — one that offers flexible working hours and relatively affordable certification — now amounts to $6 billion. Whether a consumer is interested in following or coaching others on healthy eating, including plant-based approaches, helpful resources abound to make trying the next big trend possible. And if research is any indication, they’ll likely be happy they did.