Dr. Frank Hu is Chair of Department of Nutrition, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He serves as Co-director of the Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention at Harvard and Director of Boston Nutrition and Obesity Research Center Epidemiology and Genetics Core. His major research interests include epidemiology and prevention of cardiometabolic diseases through diet and lifestyle; gene-environment interactions and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes; nutritional metabolomics in type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He has served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Preventing the Global Epidemic of Cardiovascular Disease, the AHA/ACC Obesity Guideline Expert Panel, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, USDA/HHS. He has served on the editorial boards of Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, Diabetes Care, and Clinical Chemistry. Dr. Hu is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.
Plant-based diets have been widely promoted for cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk reduction. However, the health effects of plant-based diets may depend on the types of plant foods included in the dietary patterns. Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that plant-based diets containing higher amounts of healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, oils, tea, and coffee are associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, plant-based diets including higher amounts of less healthy plant foods, such as refined grains, potatoes/fries, and foods and beverages high in added sugar, are linked to increased cardiometabolic risk. A wide spectrum of plant-based diets can be nutritionally adequate and confer cardiovascular benefits, as long as they are planned appropriately and include high-quality foods. Healthy plant-based diets can be customized to fit individual and cultural preferences and, with large-scale adoption, could concurrently mitigate threats to both human and environmental health. Recently, plant-based meat alternatives have become increasingly popular. These products are specifically designed to mimic the taste and experience of eating meat, while being marketed as a way to accelerate the shift away from animal-based products. Although these products may have some role in improving human and planetary health, their longer-term effects remain to be seen.