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Following A Plant-Based Diet Benefits Heart Health

March 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Those concerned about their heart health may want to turn to a plant-based diet. 

 

Numerous studies have been conducted on the positive effects of a plant-based diet on the heart. Almost all of them show that eating mostly vegetables and cutting out meat is beneficial for your cardiovascular health. But one recent study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in August 2019, clearly showcases the benefits of following a plant-based diet. 

 

Researchers analyzed data from 12,168 middle-aged adults enrolled in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study, which began in 1987 and is still ongoing. The ARIC study was launched with the goal of investigating causes of various heart conditions in U.S. adults and to date has been very successful: Over 1,800 scientific articles have been published due to the study, and it has helped establish new clinical guidelines used today to treat diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

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The researchers studied the participants’ diets and classified them into groups, based on their proportions of animal-based foods versus plant-based foods in each participant’s diet. They found that those in the group who ate mostly plant-based foods had a 16% lower risk of developing any cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or heart failure), a 32% lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease, and, finally, a 25% lower risk of dying from any cause. 

 

“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,” said Casey M. Rebholz, assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who led the study.

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These findings may sound promising, but in reality, many of those who eat plant-based diets aren’t any more healthy than someone who eats meat. Victoria Taylor, a dietician at the British Heart Foundation, explains that it’s quite difficult to follow such a strict diet. “A plant-based diet may suit some people, but is a serious undertaking,” says Taylor.

 

Additionally, many people automatically assume all “plant-based” or “vegan” foods are good for you, but some of these foods may contain high amounts of sugar and fat, which negatively impact heart health. 

 

“There are an increasing number of manufactured plant-based snack foods available, from cupcakes and coconut yogurts to vegan burgers, pizzas and nuggets,” says Taylor. 

 

The British Heart Foundation and the American Heart Association both recommend that people eat more whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and limit their salt, sugar, and meat intake. Yes, it seems that the best way to help your heart is to eat mostly plant-based foods, but avoid sugary or salty snack foods, and don’t be afraid to cook up some chicken or fish every now and then.

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