Plant-based diets high in foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, tea and coffee are healthiest for the heart, new research finds.
However, unhealthy vegetarian diets tend to contain juices, sugary drinks, sweetened beverages, potatoes, refined grains, and sweets including chocolates and desserts.
A study by Satija and colleagues shows that healthful plant-based diets dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease whereas unhealthful plant-based diets substantially increase the risk.
According to the research presented at the ESC Congress, a higher intake of healthful plant-based foods would lessen cardiometabolic syndorme (CMS) and help obese people to retain their metabolic health in the long run.
CMS is a form of metabolic dysfunction and the signs are high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, abnormal amount of lipids in the blood, and an increase in belly fat.
Dr. Matina Kouvari, the study’s first author, said:
“Our study highlights the variable nutritional quality of plant foods.
This finding was more evident in women.
Prior research has shown that women tend to eat more plant-based foods and less animal-based products than men.
But our study suggests that this does not guarantee healthier food choices and in turn better health status.”
Dietary studies often describe plant-based diets as “low in meat” or “vegetarian” and so all plant foods are assumed to be equal.
However, the type of plant-based foods and the amount consumed appear to be important.
A healthy plant-based product must be unprocessed or at least minimally processed.
The study looked into the connection between quality of plant foods and the intake levels on heart health.
A group of obese adults were followed for over 10 years and their dietary intakes were assessed using a food questionnaire that covered 156 foods and drinks.
By the end of study period half of the participants were metabolically unhealthy, exhibiting high blood glucose, high blood lipids, and high blood pressure.
However, health status didn’t drop for those who eat more plant-based foods.
Also, healthier plant food choices were associated with improved blood sugars and lipid profile, and reduced blood pressure.
While eating unhealthy plant foods resulted in developing high blood sugar, high levels of lipids in the blood, and high blood pressure.
Dr Kouvari said:
“Eating less meat is beneficial for heart health, particularly when it is replaced with nutritious plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was presented at European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2020 and the other study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Satija et al., 2020).