The internet is awash with positive information about plant-based diets. They lower your cholesterol, and reduce your chances of developing heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, they may even help you lose weight. So why is it that you doctor may be a little sceptical about the very diet it sounds like they should be promoting?

The truth is, doctors have very little training in nutrition, with just a few hours dedicated to it through their medical schooling. Just like the public, the information that doctors have on nutrition come from widely spread myths that encourage people to eat certain products.

Medical students in the USA will most likely receive less than 20 hours worth of nutrition education over a 4 year period of study. Percentage wise, that’s absolutely minuscule. This doesn’t look to get better anytime soon either. Three decades ago, 37% of US medical schools offered a course in nutrition, this number has dropped to 27% at present.

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Nutrition education is currently not a requirement when becoming a medical professional at any level in the USA.

The picture in the UK is much the same. In a letter addressed to the Medical Schools Council (MSC) and the General Medical Council (GMC) last year, dieticians and medical professionals warned that[t]here is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the basic evidence for the impact of nutrition and physical activity on health among the overwhelming majority of doctors.’

They urged that if the UK aims to significantly reduce the number of people dying prematurely from heart disease and cancer, then there needs to be a serious overhaul in the ways in which medical professionals are trained.

Due to insufficient time spent on the subject of nutrition, many doctors believe that you cannot get enough protein on a plant-based diet, and that you are at risk of becoming iron and calcium deficient. These are myths that are spread by food companies in order for you to consume their product. There are plenty of plant-based foods that provide a greater deal of calcium per portion than cow’s milk, and plant-based protein is abundant.

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Not only does this make doctors unnecessarily concerned about patients who are eating plant-based diets, but when they are not able to adequately advise people as to how to change their lifestyle in order to prevent serious diseases. This is particularly concerning for people who have already experienced a stroke or heart attack due to their lifestyle choices.

It is worth noting that theories around plant-based diets being healthier for the human body are not just internet fed rumours, but are backed up by scientific studies and medical professionals who have dedicated their time to ensuring they fully understand the nutritional value of food products.

Ultimately the most reliable source of information on the impact that food has on an individual’s health are scientific studies that aren’t funded by food companies.


Image credit: Reader’s Digest