Eating more vegetables and less meat contributes to a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, a new study has found, confirming what some other older studies had concluded.
One of such older studies found that eating more plant-based foods slashes the risk of heart failure by 40%, while another one found that a vegetarian diet cuts the risk of heart disease death by the same percentage.
Now, a new study appearing in the Journal of the American Heart Association strengthens these findings, as researchers find that eating more vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains and fewer animal products correlate with a much lower risk of dying of a heart attack or other serious cardiovascular event.
Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, is the lead author of the new study.
Rebholz and colleagues examined data from 12,168 middle-aged people who had enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. The ARIC project clinically followed the participants between 1987 and 2016.
The researchers in the latest study categorized the participants’ diet using four diet indexes: “In the overall plant-based diet index and pro-vegetarian diet index,” they explain, “higher intakes of all or selected plant foods received higher scores.”
“[I]n the healthy plant-based diet index, higher intakes of only the healthy plant foods received higher scores,” while “in the less healthy plant-based diet index, higher intakes of only the less healthy plant foods received higher scores.”
The researchers applied three Cox proportional hazards models to calculate hazard ratios and assess “the association between plant-based diet scores and incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all cause mortality.”
The findings reveal that the participants who had the highest intake of plant-based foods and scored the highest on the indexes were 16% less likely to have a cardiovascular condition — such as a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure — when the researchers compared them with adults who consumed the smallest amount of plant-based foods.
High plant-based food consumers were also 25% less likely to die from any cause and had a 32% lower 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 types of cardiovascular disease,” says the lead researcher.