SOUTH AFRICA – The Physicians Association for Nutrition (PAN) South Africa is taking a progressive step in enhancing medical and dietetic education by promoting plant-based nutrition and the concept of Blue Zone diets.

Following global interest sparked by the Netflix series “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” the organization conducted a survey among undergraduate medical and dietetic students to gauge their understanding of plant-based nutrition and assess the need for relevant information into their curricula.

Dr. Nanine Wyma, Managing Director at PAN South Africa, emphasized the significance of lifestyle medicine approaches that highlight the role of nutrition and plant-forward diets in preventing, managing, and even reversing chronic diseases.

She stressed the importance of doctors graduating with a comprehensive understanding of these treatment options.

The survey results revealed a notable gap in the education of health science students regarding plant-based nutrition.

A significant portion of medical and dietetic students expressed the need for more information in this area.

Furthermore, it was found that social media was a primary source of information on plant-based nutrition, highlighting the need for a more structured educational approach.

Despite the knowledge gap, there was a promising understanding among students that plant-based nutrition can effectively manage noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and heart disease.

Additionally, a substantial majority recognized the role of animal-based food systems in driving zoonotic disease emergence and pandemics.

To address these gaps, PAN University aims to integrate lifestyle medicine into its educational offerings, partnering with the South African Lifestyle Medicine Association to provide lectures throughout the academic year.

They also aim to offer support students with access to plant-based food donations and mini-grants for catering plant-based food at university events.

In tandem with these educational initiatives, ProVeg South Africa promised to offers a free 30-day Veggie Challenge, encouraging individuals to explore plant-based diets.

This initiative aimed to provide tips, recipes, meal plans, educational resources, and support, making the transition to plant-based eating more accessible.

ProVeg emphasized the health benefits of plant-based diets in preventing and treating lifestyle diseases while reducing healthcare costs and dependency on prescription medications.

“Switching to a more plant-based diet isn’t as difficult as people might think. Cutting back on meat and opting for plant-based alternatives is easier than ever with all of the products available in retail today,” Wikus Engelbrecht, communications manager, ProVeg South Africa, said.

“Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and various forms of cancer have become the leading causes of death globally. Adopting a healthy plant-based diet helps significantly reduce one’s risk for these diseases and may in some cases help reverse the diagnosis.”