Those who forgo animal foods can get complete protein, she said, from pea-based products or soy products such as beans, tofu, soy-based tempeh and seitan (wheat gluten). Complete proteins also can come from combining such foods as beans and rice, or peanut butter and whole-grain bread.
Devor said she has seen patients lose weight, get more energy and go off blood-pressure medication or insulin.
“The advantages are kind of endless,” she said. “You’re really eating this way for your health.”
Dr. Inga Jolly of Mount Carmel Medical Group in New Albany recommends plant-based eating for all patients, especially those who have Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even arthritis or autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.
“I wish more people would give it a try,” Jolly said. “If people do want to go plant-based to make some changes, it doesn’t take long to see those changes.”
The notion that protein must come from meat is a cultural phenomenon, Jolly said, and there’s no evidence that dropping meat leads to protein deficiency or malnourishment.
She noted that U.S. Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris is vegan — eating no animal products whatsoever (including meat, fish, eggs and dairy) — as are several members of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
Dr. Garrett Heinz, an OhioHealth doctor training in family medicine, is a strong believer in the power of food choices. He advocates eating mostly whole plant foods, meaning minimal consumption of processed or animal-derived foods.
“In the medical community, there’s just an emphasis on medicine and surgery and quick fixes,” Heinz said. “I want to address the root causes.”
Heinz is part of the OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital Family Medicine team, where a “Food Is Health” pilot program offers an on-site pantry with fresh and healthy foods free of cost for patients with Type 2 diabetes. Patients also receive recipes and nutrition education.
Other efforts to introduce people to vegetable-based eating can be found at Ohio State University’s 3-acre Garden of Hope, said Colleen Spees, an associate professor and cancer-prevention researcher.
One project provides gardening opportunities to families in underserved areas. They harvest fruits, vegetables and herbs and receive nutrition education, recipes and cooking demonstrations. They are provided health coaches and wearable fitness trackers.
New behaviors have formed, and researchers have seen weight loss and improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
“It’s astounding. It’s really astounding when you give people the tools and support them,” Spees said. “It’s intensive, but it’s also cheaper than giving them drugs the rest of their lives.”
The “Real Men” program began about seven years ago to address health disparities for African-American, Latino and underserved white men, said Jaci Holland, program manager of the James’ Center for Cancer Health Equity.
James dietitian Candice Schreiber offered participants a virtual grocery store tour, with tips on what to buy to reap the benefits of plant food.
“A lot of us like to think about meat as the center of our meals,” she said. “It’s kind of reframing that meal planning, basing your meals around those vegetables.”
Joseph McKelvey participated in the program with a handful of fellow retirees from the men’s line-dance group at the Marion Franklin Community Center on the South Side.
It included an assessment of their nutrition knowledge and two informational sessions, and participants received seeds and other materials to grow vegetables and herbs at home. It culminated in September with the men preparing a plant-heavy meal at The Kitchen culinary-arts restaurant in German Village.
McKelvey said he learned new ways to prepare foods, including grilling cauliflower, making zucchini pancakes and seasoning peppers with a mix of brown sugar and less-sodium Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.
His soup was chock-full of plant foods. Along with the squash and kale, it consisted of onions, celery, carrots, great Northern beans, rosemary and thyme.
“It just kind of expanded my horizons,” he said of the “Real Men” experience. “I never thought I could prepare these types of dishes before.”