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DGMC medical study looks at plant-based diet

Man wearing mask and gloves putting container of salad into salad bar Navy Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Keith Johnson preps another healthy meal for the salad bar at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s galley. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

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David Grant USAF Medical Center (DGMC) researchers recently completed a meal study focused on a plant-based diet versus an omnivorous diet in conjunction with support from the University of the Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy.

The study specifically looked at how a boxed meal kit (e.g. Purple Carrot, etc) facilitated plant-based diet (f-PBD) improves markers of heart health including a reduction in low density lipoproteins (LDL-c) and weight as compared to a standard omnivorous diet (f-SOD).

Thirty-two otherwise healthy, but overweight military beneficiaries were enrolled in the study. While they normally consumed an omnivorous diet, for the study they voluntarily followed either a plant-based diet or maintain their baseline standard omnivorous diet for a duration of 4-weeks. Volunteers consumed breakfast and lunch on their own based on their chosen diet group. Dinner was facilitated by a plant-based or a popular non-plant-based boxed meal kit to the plant-based and standard omnivorous groups respectively.

Researchers measured important cholesterol, weight and blood pressure markers at baseline and at 4-weeks. Participants were encouraged to maintain baseline activity throughout the duration of the trial which was also assessed by commercially available activity trackers.

Presented at the American Heart Association 2020 Scientific Sessions in mid-November, the study found that on average participants in the f-PBD group had a significant reduction in LDL-c from baseline as compared to an increase from baseline in the f-SOD group.

Low density lipoprotein, also commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol, contributes to accumulation of fat within arteries causing atherosclerosis. According to the American Heart Association, as LDL-c values increase and continue to build plaque within the arteries, blood vessels narrow which in turn reduces blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to vital areas of the body. This accumulation and narrowing increases risk factors for potential cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.

Likewise, the study found a significant reduction in weight from baseline in the f-PBD group compared to an increase in weight observed with the f-SOD group. Participants in the plant-based group had a 3.82-pound reduction in weight from baseline compared to a 0.87-pound weight gain in the omnivorous group.

“As a physician, I promote the adoption of a plant-based diet. This study provides data that switching to a plant-based diet is heart healthy and the use of a meal kit can facilitate that transition,” said Air Force Capt. Amanda Keller, lead author and DGMC family medicine resident.

This study was important as a previous meta-analysis published in the Journal of American Medicine Association Internal Medicine demonstrated that long term compliance to an increasingly plant-based diet supports overall good health.

“Mission readiness is of uttermost priority to the U.S. Air Force and we are committed to doing the research needed to optimize the health of our troops,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Kennedy, director of DGMC’s Clinical Investigation Facility. 

This study was supported by the Clinical Investigation Facility and faculty from the University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy.

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