Those vegans might be onto something after all.
If you eat a healthy plant-based diet—similar to those followed by many vegans—you are likely to have fewer heart attacks and you can cut your risk of heart disease by more than half, according to new research.Read More »
It’s never too late to start switching to a plant-based diet, according to the researchers who conducted the studies. Changing your diet in this way at any stage of life can benefit your heart.
Research teams conducted two separate studies, both of which are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Both were designed to measure the effect on heart disease through the consumption of nutritious plant food.
One study was conducted over more than 30 years and included 5,000 adults. Those who took part in the study were aged 18 to 30 when the study began. They were free of heart disease at the time. The participants were examined eight times at set periods over the years. The tests included medical history, physical examinations, laboratory tests and assessments of lifestyle factors.
To avoid bias, participants were not told what they should eat, nor were they told their scores. In that way, the researchers gathered data that was seen as long term and unbiased.
When the results were examined, researchers found that members of the group who followed a plant-based diet were 61 percent less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease compared with those in the study who failed to switch to a plant-based diet.
Best and worst foods
The results indicate that the best foods to include in the diet are vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, and beans. The most harmful foods are red meat that is high in fat, fried potatoes, pastries, salty snacks, and soft drinks. Neutral foods are refined grains, lean meats, potatoes and shellfish.
Includes entire diet
Earlier studies had focused on individual foods, explains Dr. Yuni Choi, lead author of the study on younger adults and a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. Until now little information had been gathered on a complete diet that is plant-centered and what it can mean for heart disease, Choi says.
The recommended diet is not necessarily vegetarian, Choi adds. People can select from plant foods that are as close as possible to natural foods and which are not highly processed. Animal products can occasionally be included in moderation, Choi says, such as poultry that is not fried, fish that is not fried, low-fat dairy products, and eggs.
In another study researchers investigated whether diets that include those plant-based foods actually hold up to the claims that they lower “bad” cholesterol and thereby improve heart health.
The study included 123,300 women in the United States who are part of a long-term study that looks at detecting and preventing serious health complications in women who are postmenopausal.
The researchers set up a variety of foods that they called the “Portfolio Diet.” It includes plant protein that is made from beans, soy or tofu; viscous fiber from barley, eggplant, apples, oranges, okra, berries and oats; plant sterols from monounsaturated fats and enriched food that is found in avocados, canola oil and olive oil. The women also cut back on their consumption of dietary cholesterol and sautéed fats.
When the study began the women were aged from 50 to 79. None had heart disease. The researchers followed the women over 17 years to determine which of the women were following the Portfolio Diet and which were not.
The study found that those women who followed the Portfolio Diet were 11 percent less likely to suffer from any type of heart disease, 14 percent less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, and 17 percent less likely to suffer heart failure.
Results are meaningful
Although the results were less striking than those among the younger adults, they show that plant-based foods such as those in the Portfolio Diet yield benefits for heart health, says Dr. John Sievenpiper of St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario, Canada and senior author of the study.
A reduction of 11 percent is meaningful in clinical term and meets any minimum threshold for benefits, he adds.
The results show that people should be encouraged to eat more of the foods included in the Portfolio Diet, he adds. The more you adhere to the Portfolio diet, the more you can lower your risk of suffering from heart problems. The results could be as effective as medications that lower cholesterol, Sievenpiper adds.
Among the findings of the study is that you can start off in a small way by adding components of the diet one at a time, says Andrea J. Glenn, a doctoral student at St. Michaels and lead author of the study. As you add more components, you can benefit more from food that promotes a healthy heart.
Both studies show that when young adults and postmenopausal women eat plant-based foods they suffer fewer heart attacks and are less likely to suffer heart disease, the researchers conclude.
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