This month, the Journal of the American Heart Association published not one but two studies on a subject I always find exciting. They both examined the use of a plant based diet for heart health!
The first of them, led by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s post-doctoral researcher Yuni Choi, explored the correlation between eating primarily plant based ingredients and the incidence of heart disease.
The researchers reviewed data collected from a large cohort study involving nearly 5,000 adults from four U.S. cities. The enrollees, aged 18 and 30 when the study began, continued providing information for 32 years. They answered questionnaires and carefully maintained health records assessing their dietary habits.
The records showed that by the time they were between 50 to 62, 289 of the participants had developed heart conditions. By analyzing and comparing their diets to those not contracting cardiovascular diseases (CVD), the researchers discovered strong correlations between the foods we choose and the health of our hearts.
They found that the heart-healthiest diets contained:
- more whole-food, plant-based ingredients
- fewer nutritionally inferior ones (such as fried potatoes or salty snacks)
- fewer unhealthy animal products (like red meat and processed meats)
How much healthier were they?
Eating a primarily whole-food plant-based diet resulted in a 52-percent lower risk of developing heart disease!
The researchers also learned consuming more plant-centered ingredients during the first half of the 32-year study significantly improved heart health.
In specific terms, an increased intake of quality plant-based foods during the cohort study’s first 13 years correlated with a 61-percent lower CVD risk over the next 12 years!
As lead researcher Choi explained in a University of Minnesota research news brief:
“We recognize the general population cannot follow a very restricted diet for a long time, so our study brings out the point to think about food and diet in more holistic ways.”
He continued, “… we think that… A diet that places plants at the center can be palatable, enjoyable, and sustainable.”
Study #2: Could a Plant Based Diet for Heart Health Help Menopausal Women?
In the second study, the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences’ registered dietitian Andrea J. Glenn, M Sc., and her team analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative prospective cohort study.
Between 1993 and 2017, the WHI’s 123,330 postmenopausal participants (aged 50 to 70) reported 13,365 incidents of CVD. The women least likely to be among them followed a “plant-based Dietary Portfolio.”
What difference did eating more plant-based foods make? It resulted in:
- an 11-percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- a 14-percent lower risk of coronary heart disease
- a 17-percent lower risk of heart failure.
How did the study define a “plant-based Dietary Portfolio?
As a plant based diet for heart health, it was low in both saturated fat and LDL cholesterol while providing plenty of cholesterol-lowering foods, including:
- plant protein, such as pulses and soy
- viscous (soluble) fibers such as barley, oats, psyllium, okra, eggplant, oranges, apples, or berries
and phytosterols. They also included monounsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocado.
Glenn told the American Heart Association that the Diet Portfolio produced a dose-response effect, “… meaning that you can start small, … one component… at a time, and gain more heart-health benefits as you add more.”
Essentially, she’s saying that the more healthy plant-based ingredients you include in your diet, the more you’ll reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
So think about it! Two new studies that examined data collected over decades from nearly 130,000 men and women came to a similar conclusion:
It’s never the wrong time to start a plant based diet for heart health!