In two new studies from the University of Minnesota, researchers found for adults both young and old, eating a nutritious, plant-based diet may lower the risk for heart attacks and other types of heart disease.
One found eating a plant-centered diet in young adulthood lowered the risk in middle age for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and several other cardiovascular conditions.
A second found eating plant-based foods that lower cholesterol levels reduced the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women.
While the research underscores the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t suggest strict vegetarianism is necessary to reap heart-healthy benefits.
They think that people can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy.
In one study, the team analyzed diet and heart disease occurrence in 4,946 adults, ages 18 to 30, enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.
They found foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains were considered beneficial, while those such as fried potatoes, high-fat red meat, salty snacks, pastries and soft drinks were considered adverse.
Neutral foods included refined grains, lean meats and shellfish.
Those who ate a more beneficial, plant-centered diet, with fewer foods considered adverse, were 52% less likely to develop heart disease during about 30 years of follow-up.
Those whose diets improved the most as they got older were 61% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those whose diets worsened the most.
In a separate study, researchers analyzed the diets of 123,330 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative.
These women were scored on their adherence to eating foods considered part of the “Portfolio Diet,” already known to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
The diet includes nuts; plant protein from soy, beans or tofu; viscous soluble fiber from oats, barley, okra, eggplant, oranges, apples and berries; plant sterols from enriched foods and monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil and avocado.
It also allows a limited amount of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.
The team found women who ate the most of these foods were 11% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease of any kind and 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease, in which plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries leading to the heart.
They were 17% less likely to develop heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump blood as well as it should. The diet didn’t appear to affect stroke risk.
The team also found a dose-response in our study, meaning that people can start small, adding one component of the Portfolio Diet at a time, and gain more heart-health benefits as you add more components.
The team says that with even greater adherence to the Portfolio dietary pattern, one would expect an association with even fewer cardiovascular events, perhaps as much as cholesterol-lowering medications.
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The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. One author of the study is Yuni Choi.
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