Consuming more plant-based foods linked to better heart health

Diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

Plant‐based diets are dietary patterns that emphasize higher intakes of plant foods and are low in animal foods. Vegetarian diets, a type of plant‐based diet, with a focus on the restriction of different kinds of animal foods, have been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular risk factors.

However, prior studies have suggested mixed outcomes on the associations with cardiovascular disease mortality and all‐cause mortality. Also, those studies were conducted on selected participants that were mostly composed of Seventh‐Day Adventists, vegetarians, or health‐conscious individuals; thus, they had relatively narrow generalizability.

Due to limited evidence on plant‐based diets in the general population and recent developments in plant‐based diet scores, a recent study has focused on:

  • Evaluating whether overall plant‐based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality in a general US population; and
  • Assessing if the association differed by adherence to healthful and less healthful plant‐based diets using four a priori defined plant‐based diet scores.

The study reviewed a database of food intake information from more than 10,000 middle-aged U.S. adults who were monitored from 1987 through 2016 and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Scientists then categorized the participants’ eating patterns by the proportion of plant-based foods they ate versus animal-based foods.

Scientists found that participants who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a:

  • 16% lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, and other conditions;
  • 32% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and
  • 25% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.

This is one of the first studies to examine the proportion of plant-based versus animal-based dietary patterns in the general population. Also, it highlights the importance of focusing on diet.

Lead researcher, Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland said, “There might be some variability in terms of individual foods, but to reduce cardiovascular disease risk people should eat more vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, legumes, and fewer animal-based foods. These findings are pretty consistent with previous findings of other dietary patterns, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, which emphasize the same food items.”

Mariell Jessup, M.D., the chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association said, “The American Heart Association recommends eating a mostly plant-based diet, provided the foods you choose are rich in nutrition and low in added sugars, sodium (salt), cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated and trans fats. For example, French fries or cauliflower pizza with cheese are plant-based but are low in nutritional value and are loaded with sodium (salt). Unprocessed foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables, and grains are good choices.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

See stories of the future in your inbox every morning.

MUST READ