Eat more plant-based foods for better heart health

Henrietta Strickland
August 11, 2019

Compared to those who ate mostly animal-based foods, those who ate mostly plant-based foods had a: 16% lower risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other heart problems; a 32% lower risk of death from heart disease; and a 25% lower risk of death from any cause during the study period.

The new study adds to "the substantial body of literature" suggesting that consuming a plant-based diet is associated with better heart health and lower risk of death, said Casey Rebholz, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and senior author of the study.

She and her team reviewed a database of food intake information from more than 10,000 middle-aged US adults who were monitored from 1987 through 2016 and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the stud.

"Plant-based diets emphasize higher intakes of plant foods and lower intakes of animal foods".

"Future research on plant-based diets should examine whether the quality of plant foods - healthy versus less healthy - impacts cardiovascular disease and death risks", Dr. Rebholz said.

The diet detailed in the American Heart Association's new study is one that doesn't entirely eliminate animal products, but rather keeps them to a minimum with plant-based foods receiving priority.

Though the study is promising, the researchers note that not all plant-based diets are equal.

The study involved data on 12,168 middle-aged adults in the United States, which came from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.

This is one of the first studies to examine the proportion of plant-based versus animal-based dietary patterns in the general population.

Plant-based diets are ones that focus on foods originating from plants, not animals.

By contrast, people who adhered most closely to the unhealthy plant-based diet consumed an average of 2.3 servings of fruits and vegetables and 1.2 servings of red or processed meat a day.

The study was published online August 7 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. "Unprocessed foods - like fresh fruit, vegetables and grains - are good choices".

To get enough protein, vegetarians should eat tofu and quinoa and also combine whole grains with legumes like beans and lentils, Spence, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email. The researchers studied their health pattern from the year 1987 till the year 2016.

"The other two are the Mediterranean diet - high in fruit and veg and low in meat - and the healthy American diet, also with reduced meat and high fruit and vegetables", Jenkins said by email.

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