Sperling Prostate Center

Does a Plant-Based Diet Improve Health?

UPDATE: 4/16/2024
Originally published 2/2/2022

The blog below promoted the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet. However, there are meat lovers who like the wellness theory of eating plants but are conflicted about giving up beef, poultry, lamb, game, or seafood.

The growing number of food products that mimic meat suggests that much of the demand arises from such wishful omnivores. Plant-based meat analogues (PBMAs) seem to be a happy solution, offering the taste and texture of flesh yet the advantages of vegetation. Not so fast!

A new study suggests that PBMAs may not be as healthy as they seem—at least where heart health and diabetes risk are concerned.

“In an 8-week parallel design randomized controlled trial, participants (n=89) were instructed to substitute habitual protein-rich foods with fixed quantities of either PBMAs (n=44) or their corresponding animal-based meats (n=45; 2.5 servings daily) maintaining intake of other dietary components.”[i]

Does replacing meat with PBMA products boost heart health and lower the risk of diabetes? The answer, according to this study, is not really. Levels of bad cholesterol were similar for both groups.

In fact, for a subgroup whose blood sugar and blood pressure were monitored, those consuming animal meat actually did a bit better!

The search for a healthy meat substitute goes on…


As a man, husband, father, and physician, I want the longest, healthiest and most enjoyable life I can have. An abundance of advice on how to do so, and advertisements claiming their products can fulfill my desire, find their way into my life. As a consumer, I know that if advice and products sound too good to be true, they probably are. As a doctor piecing together the best recipe to achieve my personal goal, I want an extra ingredient that biased advice-givers and greedy advertisers often lack: objective science. Before I start switching up my diet, or hopping on the latest fitness bandwagon, I want the results of research studies—the higher the level, and the more reputable the researchers, the better.

I recently posted a blog about a documentary called em>The Game Changers. While certain biological and dietary science is tucked in, the power of the film lies in the persuasive examples of athletes, whose testimonials and prize-winning performances appear to humble carnivorous humans. While it’s impressive, in my world that doesn’t qualify as research.

Following on the heels of that blog, I want to devote more blogs to exploring the topic of nutrition and cancer. While some of them will specifically address prostate cancer, others—like this one—will examine the difference that diet makes for our overall well-being.

In my earlier blog, I refer to The China Study, a 400+ page book detailing The China Project and the research studies cited in it. The book explores the role of nutrition in relation to the appalling prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer in Westernized nations. It is based on a study of 6500 individuals in rural China. All participants completed questionnaires as well as analysis of blood and urine samples. Their foods were also analyzed while 3-day diet information was recorded. According to the website:

In the early 1980’s, nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University, in partnership with researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, embarked upon one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever undertaken known as the China Project. China at that time presented researchers with a unique opportunity. The Chinese population tended to live in the same area all their lives and to consume the same diets unique to each region. Their diets (low in fat and high in dietary fiber and plant material) also were in stark contrast to the rich diets of the Western countries. The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet gave researchers a chance to compare plant-based diets with animal-based diets.

Much background research informed the design and objectives of the study, which included 367 variables, and covered 65 counties in China. By the time the project ended, the research team had over 8,000 statistically significant associations between diet, lifestyle and aspects of the diseases that are rampant killers in our own First World nation. All signs pointed to a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet as the most powerful preserver of the ways in which our bodies were born to be healthy. If you wanted to be a purist, you’d eliminate animal protein altogether, and embrace a strict vegan diet of fruits, vegetables and grains.

For example, the study linked casein, the animal protein in cow’s milk, with cancer. Author T. Colin Campbell observed that in multiple, peer-reviewed animal studies, researchers discovered that they could actually turn the growth of cancer cells on and off by raising and lowering doses of casein.

But not just cancer. The China Study demonstrated that our bodies respond favorably to a WFPB lifestyle by protecting us from heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and diseases of the kidneys, bones, eyes, brain, and autoimmune disorders. The bottom line is this: people who ate the most animal products had the highest levels of illness, while those who ate the most plant-based products were the healthiest.

I look forward to conducting my personal exploration of how to be my healthiest self, and to sharing what I learn through future blogs. So far, a WFPB diet seems to offer the best roadmap. Stay tuned for the next step on the journey.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Kiat Toh DW, Fu AS, Mehta KA, Lin Lam NY, Haldar S, Henry CJ. Plant-based meat analogues (PBMAs) and their effects on cardiometabolic health: An 8-week randomized controlled trial comparing PBMAs with their corresponding animal-based foods. Am J Clin Nutr. 2024 Apr 8:S0002-9165(24)00396-4


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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