Two longitudinal studies have found that a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods can reduce the risk of heart disease. The findings emerge alongside reports of the positive impact a vegan diet can have on the planet.
Young adults, diet, and CVD
Each participant was aged between 18 and 30 years when the study began, and all were free of CVD.
Doctors assessed each participant’s health over the study period and kept records of their diet. They also rated each person’s diet quality. Higher scores represented higher consumption of nutritionally rich plant foods, and lower intake of high-fat meat products and less healthy plant foods.
By the end of the study, 289 people had developed CVD.
Researchers concluded that those with a long-term ‘plant-centered, high-quality diet’ were 52 percent less likely to develop incident CVD.
This was even after researchers adjusted for factors like race and sex.
Additionally, increasing plant-centered diet quality in young adulthood was associated with a 61 percent lower risk of incident CVD throughout middle age, regardless of earlier diet quality.
Nutritionist Kristin Kirkpatrich spoke with Medical News Today about the study.
“The data presented in this study is consistent with previous studies on plant-based diets and longevity and metabolic health,” she said.
“I’m not surprised at the findings, and perhaps the takeaway here is it’s never too late or too early to start a plant-based diet.”
Postmenopausal women, diet, and CVD
A separate study also examined the connection between plant-based foods and the risk of CVD. However, in this case researchers focused on postmenopausal women.
The participants were between 50 and 79 years old when the study began in 1993 – it carried on until 2017.
Researchers assessed how closely the participants adhered to the Portfolio diet. The Portfolio diet is a form of a vegan diet and is intended to lower LDL cholesterol. It excludes animal products and focuses on soy protein, plant sterols, soluble fiber, and tree nuts.
Experts found that those who followed a Portfolio diet the most closely were 17 percent less likely to suffer from heart failure. They were also 14 percent and 11 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease and CVD respectively.
“We also found a dose response in our study, meaning that you can start small, adding one component of the Portfolio diet at a time, and gain more heart health benefits as you add more components,” lead author Andrea J. Glenn told Medical News Today.
Diet and environmental impact
Plant-based diets have been making headlines in other fields, too.
“A shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein in regions with excess consumption of calories and animal-source food can lead to substantial reductions in emissions, while also providing health benefits,” the report reads.
“Plant-based diets can reduce emissions by up to 50 percent compared to the average emission intensive western diet.”
It’s not the first time researchers have come to this conclusion.
In 2019, researchers from Oxford University conducted the most comprehensive analysis to date of the impact of farming on the planet.
Oxford University’s Joseph Poore, who led the study, stated: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.”