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Published on February 01, 2017

Whole foods and plants adds up to healthyWhole foods and plants adds up to healthy

Kumara Sidhartha, MD, MPH, practices what he preaches.

Dr SidharthaAnd what he practices is known as WFPB, which stands for Whole Food Plant-Based diet.

Dr. Sidhartha, who is medical director of Emerald Physicians, which serves more than 56,000 patients across Cape Cod, watched one of his patient’s blood sugar level safely drop from 417 to 100 without insulin or medications. Another 84-year-old patient’s heart shifted from having pain when taking five steps to being pain free after miles of walking.

“They were rejuvenated after two months of the WFPB lifestyle,” he said.

“In every success story I have experienced, the patient is truly the protagonist,” Dr. Sidhartha emphasized. He paints vivid pictures of these success stories over the last decade.

“It looks like basketball played with a grandson after being told, years ago, to get “urgent” bypass heart surgery and then never having to undergo that surgery because of WFPB diet,” he said. “Or it can look like gardening and painting the home with one’s favorite colors using what once used to be crippled wrists ridden with arthritis.”

See below for a video of Dr. Sidhartha talking about a plant based diet:

Kumara Sidhartha, M.D. On The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet from Emerald Physicians on Vimeo.

What is WFPB?

Whole Food Plant-Based guidelines is a diet of foods made with whole plant foods just as they look when harvested – relatively unprocessed and unrefined. Some processing is inevitable and some even helpful, but extended processing and refining robs plant foods of their nutrients. And it’s a diet that comes from plants rather than animals.

“Personally, my health is at its best after switching to a WFPB lifestyle. I have incredible energy to tackle the many projects in which I’m involved,” Dr. Sidhartha explained. “Professionally, I have an abundance of job satisfaction — something that can be elusive in primary care. This satisfaction comes from knowing that I am able to tell the truth to my patients and help navigate them through their doubts and dilemmas. The beauty and sacredness of physician-patient relationship is lifted to a new level when healing occurs through whole food, plant-based nutrition.”

The confidence Dr. Sidhartha exudes about a plant and vegetable diet is supported by a compendium of research. And health systems across the country like Cape Cod Healthcare, as well as insurers, are listening carefully as they emphasize education and preventive medicine to improve quality of care and reduce medical costs and hospital admissions.

  • In a recent study published last August, researchers analyzed the ability of plant protein to protect individuals from dying of heart-related deaths and those due to any medical cause. In following 131,342 participants – all health care worker – from 1980 to 2012, it was found that even a small amount of switching from animal to plant protein in your diet had significant protective effects. For every 3 percent of daily calorie intake swapped from animal protein to plant protein, the risk of dying was cut by 10 percent. (Usually 10 -15 percent of our daily calories come from protein).
  • One of the largest and longest studies followed nearly 110,000 men and women’s health and dietary habits for 14 years. It found that the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Those who averaged eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those consuming only 1.5 daily servings.
  • That same Harvard University study found that while all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to better health, green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale; and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit (and their juices) made significant contributions.
  • A study of more than 66,000 women strongly indicated that greater consumption of whole fruits – especially blueberries, grapes and apples – is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Another study of 70,000 female nurses, ages 38-63, showed that consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruit was associated with a lower risk of diabetes.

When others voice skepticism or challenge Dr. Sidhartha about the healing power of fruits and vegetables, he brings patience, but firmness to the conversation.

“First, I will ask more questions to understand them. They may not be aware of any of the existing evidence supporting WFPB nutrition treatments. Or perhaps they themselves are not practicing that lifestyle, so may subconsciously deny rather than explore the validity of this claim and consider changing their own lifestyle,” he told the Plantician Project in a recent interview.

“We now have a convergence of evidence from various methods of scientific inquiry — population studies, controlled trials, cohort studies and biological plausibility supported by laboratory corroboration. The result is the collection of enough data to know that WFPB nutrition intervention has a high likelihood of being an effective treatment for chronic diseases such as cardio vascular disease and diabetes in addition to having only positive side effects.

“How many pills and procedures can make that claim and not bankrupt the healthcare system and not drive patients to choose between copays for pills and heating bills?”

Dr. Sidhartha also notes the rising number of funders and foundations ready to finance further studies about WFPB nutrition’s effects on chronic diseases.

One of these projects is happening right here on Cape Cod, a collaboration with Sustainable CAPE and financed by Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program, the Cape Cod Foundation and the Cape Cod Five Foundation.

It is called FLAVORx. short for Farm and Local Health Alliance for Vegetables and Fruit in Outcome-based Rx program. The program is a collaboration between the primary care practice, Emerald Physician Services, under the medical leadership of Dr. Sidhartha and Sustainable CAPE, a local farmers’ market champion directed by its founder Francie Randolph, as well as strong support from Cape Cod Healthcare under the leadership of CEO Mike Lauf.

“It not only is studying the impact of whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables on people’s health, but it also is addressing two other major factors – education and access,” he said.

“For people to change their diet, knowledge is critical, but not enough. We need to improve people’s skills to shop and prepare these healthy foods. But, even then, there are thousands of people right here on Cape Cod who simply cannot physically access foods for a WFPB diet, and often they cannot afford to purchase them.

“Having access to fresh produce can make all the difference,” emphasized Dr. Sidhartha.

Note: As of 5/1/2019, Emerald Physicians joined Medical Affiliates of Cape Cod (MACC), a division of primary and specialty care physicians from Cape Cod Healthcare.