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Plant based diet may reduce cardiovascular death risk by 32%

More and more studies are suggesting that eating fewer animal products is good for your health, and a large amount of evidence is showing that a plant based diet could benefit cardiovascular health.

One recent study discovered that eating more plant based foods reduces the risk of heart failure by 40%, while a different study found that vegetarian diets cut the risk of heart disease death also by 40%.

A new study led by Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., strengthens these findings – it was discovered that eating more vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, alongside eating fewer animal products, correlates with a lower risk of dying of a heart attack or other serious cardiovascular event.

Studying dietary intake and heart health

Rebholz and colleagues examined data from 12,168 middle aged people who had enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which followed participants between 1987 and 2016.

The Rebholz study categorised the participants’ diet using four diet indexes: “In the overall plant based diet index and provegetarian 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.”

25% lower risk of death from any cause

The findings from this study revealed that the participants with 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.

High plant based food consumers were also revealed to be 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 type of cardiovascular disease,” says the lead researcher. “There might be some variability in terms of individual foods, but to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, people should eat more vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, legumes, and fewer animal based foods.”

Study strengths and limitations

Rebholz also pointed out that this study is one of the first to examine this association in the general population. Comparatively, most previous research has discovered cardiovascular benefits for plant based diets in smaller populations, such as vegetarians.

Rebholz added, “The findings are pretty consistent with previous findings about other dietary patterns, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, which emphasize the same food items,” Rebholz adds.

However, the study has some limitations, including the self-reported nature of the dietary intake. The ARIC study also measured the dietary intake of plant based and animal based foods decades ago, and so may not reflect the modern food industry. Finally, the study cannot prove causation.

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