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23 September, 2019 - 15:08 By Kate Sweeney

Wellcome Trust funds £5 million vegan diet study

Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

Big-hitting research bodies in Norfolk have joined forces for a £5 million  initiative probing the health benefits of a purely plant-based diet.

The vegan venture is being spearheaded by the University of East Anglia with world-class research input from UEA, the John Innes Centre, the Quadram Institute and the Earlham Institute. 

The Wellcome Trust is funding the effort as part of a £127m initiative encompassing 23 different projects.

The 'Edesia: Plants, Food and Health' project will see PhD researchers at Norwich Research Park explore the complex interactions between plant-based foods, metabolism, gut microbiota and health.

One of the spin-off benefits will see 25 PhD students recruited over the next five years from October 2020 to optimise the cross-disciplinary effort. They will be tutored in a broad range of areas embracing plant science, nutrition, population studies and clinical trials. 

The long-range objective is to support a dietary switch to one that is nutrient-rich to combat dietary-related chronic illness worldwide. Plant-based nutrition is gaining increasing recognition as a key weapon to combat chronic illness such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers.

A 2019 international report by the EAT-Lancet Commission highlighted food as one of the 21st century's greatest health and environmental challenges and emphasised the importance of high plant food diets. 

The report estimated that switching to a high plant-based diet with restricted intake of animal and unhealthy food could prevent 11 million deaths a year. 

Edesia's director, Professor Ian Clark of UEA's School of Biological Sciences said: “The largest burden on the NHS stems from poor diet and food-related ill health, costing around £5.8 billion per year.

“It has been estimated that dietary change could prevent more than 50 per cent of contemporary public health problems. The evidence very strongly shows that optimised diets play a major role in improving health, with plant-based diets also key to environmental sustainability.

“Fruit and vegetables supply most essential vitamins and micronutrients as well as fibre, resistant starch, polyphenols, flavonoids and carotenoids in human diet. 

“But these benefits have been poorly understood or overshadowed by the concentration on calorie intake over the past 40 years. We want to change that.

“We are very excited to be awarded this Wellcome Trust programme, which will use the extensive research expertise across the NRP from crop to clinic, to understand how plant-based foods promote and protect health.”

• Photograph by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

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