One of our messages here on Embody Nourish is and always will be that a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) lifestyle is optimal for our health and wellbeing. There is substantial scientific evidence that suggests this is so but, unfortunately, the food industry continues to confuse the public into thinking otherwise for their own self-interests.
Fortunately, the evidence for a WFPB lifestyle continues to mount and more and more people are becoming aware of its benefits. The lifestyle experiment we discuss below is one such piece of evidence. It is one of our favourite studies that highlights just how powerfully a plant-based lifestyle can impact people’s health both physically and mentally.
The BROAD Study
In an incredible randomised control trial in 2017, researchers from New Zealand compared adding whole food plant-based lifestyle to standard conventional medical care in treatment of obesity and its complications (diabetes and heart disease).
The study was performed in one of the lowest socio-economical (poorest) regions in New Zealand that also had one of the highest obesity rates in the country.
The participants were split into an Intervention group and a Control group. Both group would receive the medical standard care and advice for their conditions.
Study participants were overweight or obese and had at least one of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Empowerment & Freedom
The only difference in the groups was that the Intervention group had educational sessions twice weekly for 12 weeks.
In those sessions, participants were advised on what a low-fat whole food plant-based diet is and were encouraged to approach their diets consuming primarily whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. The chart below was provided to each Intervention participant:
They received chef cooking tutorials and presentations/discussions with doctors. Additionally, they also had plant-based documentary viewings and even plant-based quiz nights, restaurant events, potlucks and a graduation ceremony.
As a part of the study, they were advised not to count calories and also to consume their foods ad libitum (without any restrictions) to satiation.
What makes this study stand out is that absolutely no meals were provided to the Intervention participants. What this means is that they could have easily went home and continued their usual food choices and intake if they pleased. The Intervention participants were simply given the information they required to consider and enable a low-fat WFPB diet as a part of their lifestyle if they so wished.
Amazingly, with simply the knowledge and empowerment to implement change in their lives, the Intervention group was able to lose an average of 8.6 kilograms (~17 pounds) over the 12-week study despite complete freedom over their own intake!
After the initial 12 weeks, all participants were again free to resume eating as they please except now there were no longer anymore bi-weekly educational sessions or encouragements beyond standard medical care.
The researchers then checked on the participants at the 6 month mark and, incredibly, the Intervention group continued to lose weight. They brought their average weight loss as a group up to 12.1 kilograms (~27 pounds)!
Even at the 12 month check, the Intervention group was able to maintain their average weight loss from 6 months prior. In most diet studies and trials that we’re aware of, participants usually gain back the initial weight that they had lost. So it is astonishing that the BROAD participants were able to maintain their weight loss for 52 weeks despite the educational sessions concluding at 12 weeks.
So how did the control group go at 3 and 6 months with standard medical advice and care? Their weight only reduced by 1.2 kilograms ( ~2.6 pounds) and 1.6 kilograms (~3.5 pounds) respectively.
Healthier & Happier
Not only did the Intervention group lose significantly more weight and keep it off, they had improvements in many other areas of their physical health as well:
- Their cholesterol levels dropped more so than the control group
- Their diabetic control marker HBA1c improved compared to control
- Many were able to come off a number of medications
- Their kidney function improved
Aside from their physical health, their mental wellbeing also significantly improved compared to the control group:
- They reported an increased quality of life
- Increased general and nutritional self-efficacy
- Increased self esteem
This was all without any change in the participants’ food enjoyment, expenses or exercise levels.
People will continue to say that any diet will work so long as we follow it. That is true to an extent because any diet followed that has a restricted caloric intake or portion controlling can result in weight loss. If it was that simple then why is the obesity epidemic only worsening?
Past and current diet methods have relied individuals to will themselves through hunger and calorie restriction/counting until weight is lost. Then they are expected to somehow keep the weight off but we know too well that this doesn’t often occur.
By significantly improving the quality of the food we are consuming, a whole food plant-based lifestyle allows us to eat ad libitum without restrictions, portion controlling and/or calorie counting. It allows us to do this while simultaneously improving our physical and mental wellbeing. With these facts in mind, it is little wonder why a WFPB lifestyle is our choice and one that we hope we can help others will discover and implement.
- Wright N, Wilson L, Smith M, Duncan B, McHugh P. The BROAD study: a randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes. Nutr Diabetes. 2017;7(3):e256. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28319109