Yet another study has concluded that plant-based diets have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, diets rich in fried foods, processed foods, or sugary drinks, are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

Tacos can be plant-based too.

Researchers analyzed data based on 16,608 black and white adults aged 45 years old and older. Participants were given a 150-question questionnaire about their eating habits and were subsequently split into five groups, based on these habits:

    • • “Alcohol/salads” (heavy on wine, liquor, beer, leafy greens and salad dressing)
      • “Southern” (heavy on fried food, processed meats, eggs, added fats and sugar-sweetened beverages)
      • “Sweets/fats” (heavy on desserts, bread, sweet breakfast foods, chocolate and other sugar)
      • “Plant-based” (vegetables, fruit, beans and fish)
      • “Convenience” (heavily meat dishes, pasta, Mexican dishes, pizza and fast food)

Almost nine years later, researchers checked in again with the participants. There were 363 new heart failure hospitalizations, and the Southern diet appeared to be the most unhealthy of the five.

Researchers noted a 72% higher risk of heart failure hospitalization associated with the Southern diet, but there was a twist: after the results were corrected for Body Mass Index, hypertension, and excess fats, the correlation was no longer significant. The team believes that the Southern Diet doesn’t directly increase heart risk but is associated with increased obesity rates, and this increases the risk.

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Meanwhile, plant-based diets were associated with a much lower risk of heart disease. Participants who were the most adherend to the plant-based diet had a 41% lower risk of new heart failure hospitalization compared to the least adherent. This difference couldn’t be easily explained by other parameters.

The strength of the study lies in the diverse and substantial sample size. People from all demographics and socioeconomic status were involved so that the results would be representative for the entire population. However, the study also has a substantial downside: the dietary habits were only assessed in the beginning, and therefore the study fails to account for any potential changes in eating habits.

This is far from the first study to conclude that plant-based diets are very healthy — not necessarily a vegetarian diet, but one that is very low in meat

Since plant-based diets are, by now, effectively proven to reduce heart risk, the team calls for more preventive diet-based measures and policies.

“The need for population based preventive strategies for heart failure is critical,” said Kyla Lara, MD, lead author of the study and a cardiology fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “These findings support a population-based dietary strategy for lowering the risk of incident heart failure.”

The study by Lara et al. Has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.