Living a long and fulfilling life requires people to make conscious decisions along the way that will reduce their risk of developing life-threatening complications. One of the biggest threats to longevity is cardiovascular disease – one of the leading causes of death and disability in the UK. Fortunately, following a healthy diet can help to ward off the threat. Growing evidence suggests a plant-based diet can boost heart health.
This is the verdict of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. “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 at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
The findings were the result of a review of food intake information from more than 10,000 middle-aged U.S. adults who were followed from 1987 through 2016 and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.
They then categorised the participants’ eating patterns by the proportion of plant-based foods they ate versus animal-based foods.
Significantly, people who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a 16 per cent lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other conditions.
They also had a 32 per cent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease and 25 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.
According to the lead researcher, people should eat a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, legumes and fewer animal-based foods to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular complications.
How much fruit and veg a day?
Official nutritional guidelines, informed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), have long recommended people eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
A recent study puts the number at eight servings a day, however.
The large-scale meta-analysis, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, shows that 7.8 million deaths worldwide could be prevented each year if people ate more fruits and vegetables.
According to Dagfinn Aune, the study author, the more a person eats, the lower the overall risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and premature death.
The findings support revising the current recommendations, said Aune.
The study shows that the risk of dying prematurely from all causes was reduced by almost a third, and the risk of cardiovascular disease by about a quarter in people who ate 800 grams of fruit and vegetables every day, compared with those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables.
“We see a gradual reduction in risk with increasing consumption, so a low or moderate intake is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all,” he said.
The meta-analysis is also the first to drill down into subcategories and individual varieties of fruits and vegetables that can be connected to a reduced risk of various diseases and premature death.
Apples and pears, citrus fruit, fruit juice, green leafy vegetables and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C were among the types of fruit and vegetables that were linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Canned fruits, however, were linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
“However, we need more studies on specific types of fruit and vegetables because relatively few of the studies in our analysis had looked at this issue,” said Aune.