Mounting bodies of evidence suggest that eating more plant based foods and less animal sources may contribute to a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, as well as being good for the planet.
Recent research has found that eating more plant based foods can cut the risk for heart failure by 40%, and another found that a vegetarian diet can also reduce the risk for heart disease by 40%, which is an impressive amount.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has added to these findings and supports previous research with findings from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that suggest eating more legumes, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while eating fewer animal products correlates with a much lower risk of dying from a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack.
Data was examined from 12,168 middle aged individuals who were enrolled in the ARIC study which followed subjects from 1987 to 2016. Participants were categorized by diet using 4 indexes in the overall plant based diet index and provegetarian diet index; higher intake of all or selected plant based foods received higher scores, and 3 Cox proportional hazard models were used to calculate hazard ratios and assess associations between plant based diet scores and incident of cardiovascular disease, CVD mortality, and mortality from all causes.
Those with the highest intake of plant based foods with the highest index scores were found to be 16% less likely to have a cardiovascular condition; 25% less likely to die from any cause, and had a 32% decreased risk of dying from a cardiovascular condition.
“While you don’t have to give up foods derived from animals completely, our study does suggest that 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,” says the lead researcher.
“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 … findings are pretty consistent with previous findings about other dietary patterns, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, which emphasize the same food items,” says Casey M. Rebholz.
“The AHA 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,” explains Dr. Mariell Jessup, the chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association.
This is one of the first studies to investigate this association in the general public, most previous research has found cardiovascular benefits from following a plant based diet in small vegetarian populations. The study was not free of limitations such as the self reported nature of dietary intake, and the ARIC study measured intake decades ago so the measurements may not reflect the modern food industry, as well as this study can’t prove causation.