Eating more plant-based foods may be linked to better heart health

The American Heart Association has published a new study that found diets primarily composed of plant-based foods may protect heart health and reduce the risk of early death caused by stroke and heart attack. Casey M. Rebholz, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the USA, and lead researcher of the study said, "Eating a larger proportion of plant-based foods and a smaller proportion of animal-based foods may help reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other type of cardiovascular disease".

Researchers reviewed a database of food intake information from more than 10,000 middle-aged United States adults who were monitored from 1987 through 2016 and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The participants' eating habits were analyzed and their eating patterns were grouped according to the proportion of plant-based foods they ate versus the proportion of animal-based foods. The participants who consumed the greatest quantities of plant-based foods were found to have a 32-percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 16-percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

"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. "In this study, we did not define plant-based diets on the basis of complete exclusion of animal foods from the diet ... but rather ranked individuals according to their relative frequency of intake of these foods".

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The team examined the link between plant-based diet consumption and incident of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease death. They were less likely to be obese, smokers, or to have high blood pressure or diabetes.

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.

But not all vegetarian and plant-based diets were equally beneficial, researchers report in the Journal of the American Heart Association. "Unprocessed foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables and grains are good choices", Jessup said. It's also unclear from the results whether there is an ideal amount of plant or animal foods for optimal heart health or for longevity, the authors note.

The study wasn't created to prove whether or how any one way of eating might directly prevent heart disease or premature deaths. Though these diets vary in composition, they often emphasize whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils.

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