Not All Plant-Based Diets Are Equally Beneficial For Heart Health: Research Finds

Key Takeaways:

  • Research has shown a significant reduction in heart disease risk for individuals following a plant-based diet, especially in men who saw a decrease of up to 25%.
  • The kind of plant-based foods consumed plays a critical role in these benefits. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oils, and tea or coffee are deemed healthy while those high in juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets are considered unhealthy.
  • Not all plant-based diets are beneficial, and those that include large amounts of unhealthy plant-based food do not exhibit the same lowered risks of heart disease.
  • Merely following a plant-based diet is insufficient; it’s equally important to focus on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to achieve substantial benefits for heart health.

A growing body of evidence shows that a plant-based diet can be good for your heart, but the kind of foods you choose to eat is pivotal, researchers explain.

The research team observed the dietary habits and heart disease manifestations of more than 2,000 adults in Greece over a 10-year span starting in 2002.

Plant-based Diets and Heart Disease Risk

Men who ate more plant-based foods, as compared to those who consumed more animal-based foods, had a significantly reduced heart disease risk – a 25% decrease. While a similar pattern was noticed among women, it was less evident. Women who ate the least amount of animal-based foods saw their heart disease risk reducing by 11%.

According to the study, individuals who leaned towards a diet rich in plant-based foods consumed, on average, three servings of animal-based foods per day. This was in contrast to others who ate five servings of animal-based foods daily.

“These enlightening findings underscore that even a minor reduction in daily intake of animal-based products – primarily the less healthy food options, such as processed meat – supplemented by an increase in consumption of healthy plant-based foods can contribute to improved cardiovascular health,” lead author of the study, Demosthenes Panagiotakos, explained. Panagiotakos is a professor and vice rector at Harokopio University in Athens.

Healthy and Unhealthy Plant-Based Foods

The team further focused on subjects who ate more plant-based foods to ascertain whether their diets were healthy, characterized by high quantities of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oils, and tea or coffee, or unhealthy, defined by high levels of juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets.

The research indicated that individuals who ate more healthy plant-based foods had a significant reduction in heart disease risk compared to those whose diets consisted of more animal-based foods. However, this was not the case for people who consumed more unhealthy plant-based foods.

“Judging from these outcomes, just following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is insufficient to lower cardiovascular risk. It is equally crucial to emphasize specific, healthful plant-based food groups to realize a benefit in terms of mitigating cardiovascular disease,” Panagiotakos added.

Studies presented at symposia are typically deemed preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Additional Information

Find more details on
plant-based eating at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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