Eating fewer animal products and replacing them with plant-based foods is good for your health, a new study concludes.
Yet another study has found that eating a diet rich in plant-based foods significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland reviewed a database of food intake of more than 10,000 participants. The database included middle-aged US adults, monitored from 1987 to 2016, who did not have cardiovascular diseases when the study started. They found that people who ate the most plant-based foods had a 16% lower risk of having cardiovascular disease, a 32% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and a 25% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.
The team emphasizes that you don’t necessarily need to take any extreme steps — simply reducing the amount of animal products in your diet can go a very long way.
“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 lead researcher, Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology .
Of course, some foods are better than others and some foods are worse. The general guidelines of eating less processed foods and foods rich in saturated and trans fats still apply — but as a general rule, plant-based foods seem to improve overall health and reduce the risk of a number of dangerous conditions. It’s not just heart diseases either: previous studies have linked plant-based diets to a reduction in the risk of cancer and many other chronic illnesses.
“Our findings underscore the importance of focusing on your diet. 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. These 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 said.
While the study was observational and did not assess the causality between plant-based diets and heart diseases, there is already plenty of evidence (and numerous studies) suggesting the benefits of such diets. Most national health recommendations already focus on reducing meat consumption, and that is an excellent first step. While other products such as dairy or eggs can also have negative effects, their impact is typically much lower than that of meat — particularly red meat.
Unprocessed foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables and grains are good choices, says Mariell Jessup, M.D., the chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association. The main takeaway is to have a balanced diet, with varied sources of nutrients — that’s the safest way to go about it.