Florida International University (FIU)
A pilot study conducted in collaboration with Florida International University and four of the most at-risk elementary schools in Miami, (1998 - 1999) demonstrated the following results out of a sample of 248 students:
60% of students reported that their eating habits had improved as a direct result of the program
100% of the students learned elements of nutrition objectives specified in the Miami-Dade County schools health curriculum
80% of students expressed a desire to see the Food is Elementary recipes served in the school lunch program and said they would choose these foods if offered
71% of students reported that they cook the FIE recipes at home.
One school principal commented that, "Students, teachers, and parents have reported to me that their understanding of nutrition has improved 100% as a result of the program. The children enjoyed the project tremendously. It was broadening for them to experience diversity and the opportunity to try something new."
The Bay Point Pilot Study was conducted as part of a food, nutrition, and cooking program to educate staff and students about healthy eating and the role food plays in health, academic performance, and behavior. The Bay Point School for Boys in Miami, Florida, is a residential school for teenage males who have been sent to Bay Point by the courts.
Dr. Demas was invited by the administration to develop healthier options in the cafeteria and design a culinary arts/nutrition curriculum as a vocational choice for students. Nineteen students signed up to take the culinary arts course, along with the kitchen staff. Because the interest and cooperation students and staff showed in nutrition, Dr. Demas suggested that she design a pilot study to evaluate the effect healthy food has upon student health, behavior, and academic performance.
Nineteen students participated in the study. For three weeks they prepared and ate only plant-based meals, drank eight glasses of water a day and kept journals to document personal experience. All of these students reported improvements in: grade point averages, athletic performance, aggressive behavior, acne, strength, and overall well being. Most of the students also reported weight loss.
Medical results interpreted by Dr. Harvey Zarren, cardiologist, Lynn, MA.
Four students of the eleven who had pre and post study blood levels had starting total cholesterol levels above 150mgm/dl. All of these students had decreased levels of total cholesterol at the end of the three week study period. The decreases varied from 3 to 23%, average 15%. Traditional preventive cardiology wisdom teaches that a 1% drop in total cholesterol results in a 2% drop in risk of future heart attacks. Thus a 15% drop in total cholesterol, if sustained, might decrease the risk of future heart disease by 30%, a significant reduction in risk.
Homocysteine levels dropped an average of 28%, but levels were not measured fasting, so the results are interesting but not clearly significant. Elevated homocysteine is implicated in arterial and venous disease and Alzheimer's disease. Animal source proteins contain three (3) times the amount of methionine compared to plant source protein. Methionine is the precursor of homocysteine. It is reasonable that changing from an animal source food diet to a plant based diet will lower homocysteine levels and likely lower the risk of vascular disease and possibly Alzheimer's disease.
Sevenof the eleven patients who had blood work done had weight loss ranging from one (1) to two (2) kilograms over the month long study. The average weight loss was 1.4 kilograms or three (3) pounds. Obesity is epidemic in young people in the United States. A dietary change that can result in weight loss will help to prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease and can likely cut the risk of common cancers such as colon cancer.
The Bay Point Study is very interesting for its behavioral and subjective results. The small amount of data, while not statistically significant is also very interesting. The idea that such a short term study can decrease weight, decrease elevated cholesterol levels quite significantly and might also decrease homocysteine levels need further research.
Among the benefits of changing to plant based diets is the potential improvement in vascular function affecting skeletal muscles and the blood supply to organs such as the heart. Arteries which supply oxygenated blood and fuel to muscles in the body are constantly opening and closing to alter blood supply to various parts of the body. The arteries open or enlarge under the influence of a substance called endothelial derived relaxing factor which signals the muscle cuff around arteries to relax, allowing the arteries to open or dilate. Studies have shown that ingestion of a fatty meal can decrease or stop production of relaxing factor for up to six hours in normal subjects. Such people have decreased muscle blood supply during that time. Plant based diets are intrinsically lower in fat than are animal based diets and would be expected to affect blood vessel function less adversely.
Click here to read journal entries from Culinary Arts Students participating in the Plant-Based Nutrition Pilot Study at Bay Point Schools, in Miami, FL.