Plant-based diets may improve consumers’ heart health

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Several studies point to significant benefits for young adults and older women

A new study conducted by the American Heart Association found that many consumers can benefit from opting for more plant-based food options. 

According to their findings, eating more plant-based foods can improve heart health at two important junctures in life: young adulthood through middle age and after menopause for women. 

“A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health,” said researcher Yuni Choi, Ph.D. “A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian. People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy.” 

Following heart-healthy habits

This analysis included data from two studies. First, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 5,000 adults enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Over the course of 30 years, the participants received regular medical exams and had their diets evaluated. The second study followed over 123,000 postmenopausal women’s health outcomes over 15 years and compared their dietary habits with the Portfolio Diet, which is a vegan-based diet

The first study showed that participants were more than 50% less likely to develop heart disease when they followed diets with the most plant-based foods. Participants who fell into this category also ate the least amount of animal-based products, which likely also contributed to their improved heart health

The researchers say making positive changes to diet over time can drastically improve consumers’ heart health. They learned that when the participants began eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal-based options during young adulthood and middle age, they were more than 60% less likely to develop heart disease by the end of the study. 

The second study yielded similar results. The women who more closely followed the Portfolio Diet had the greatest heart health outcomes; they were nearly 20% less likely to develop heart failure and 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease. Similar to the findings from the other study involved in the analysis, the researchers learned that consumers can slowly incorporate foods from the Portfolio Diet into their routines and gradually retain the benefits as they add in more of these heart-healthy options.

“These results present an important opportunity, as there is still room for people to incorporate more cholesterol-lowering plant foods into their diets,” said researcher Dr. John Sievenpiper. “With even greater adherence to the Portfolio dietary pattern, one would expect an association with even less cardiovascular events, perhaps as much as cholesterol-lowering medications. Still, an 11% reduction is clinically meaningful and would meet anyone’s minimum threshold for a benefit. The results indicate that the Portfolio Diet yields heart-health benefits.” 

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