Even less strict plant-based diets containing small amounts of animal products can also lower blood pressure, a review reveals.
Researchers from Warwick Medical School point out that dietary patterns containing higher amounts of plant-based foods, if married to small amounts of animal-based foods such as meat and diary will still reduce blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
The team compared seven plant-based diets including the Mediterranean, DASH, vegetarian, high fibre, vegan, high fruit and vegetables, and Nordic.
Several of these diets contained some animal products, but results showed that they exert a similar effect on blood pressure as has been seen in strict vegetarian diets.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, therefore decreases in blood pressure would have a significant positive impact on public health.
The global death rate and number of diseases caused by poor diets are much higher than excessive drinking, smoking, unsafe sex, and drug abuse put together.
Every year about 5 million death could be prevented by eating a more plant-based diet rich in whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
The research team wanted to see if plant-based diets have to be free from any animal product in order to lower blood pressure sufficiently.
Mr Joshua Gibbs, the study’s first author, said:
“We reviewed 41 studies involving 8,416 participants, in which the effects of seven different plant-based diets (including DASH, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Vegan, Nordic, high fibre and high fruit and vegetables) on blood pressure were studied in controlled clinical trials.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of these studies showed that most of these diets lowered blood pressure.
The DASH diet had the largest effect reducing blood pressure by 5.53/3.79 mmHg compared to a control diet, and by 8.74/6.05 mmHg when compared to a ‘usual’ diet.
A blood pressure reduction of the scale caused by a higher consumption of plant-based diets, even with limited animal products would result in a 14% reduction in strokes, a 9% reduction in heart attacks and a 7% reduction in overall mortality.
This is a significant finding as it highlights that complete eradication of animal products is not necessary to produce reductions and improvements in blood pressure.
Essentially, any shift towards a plant-based diet is a good one.”
Professor Francesco Cappuccio, study senior author, said:
“The adoption of plant-based dietary patterns would also play a role in global food sustainability and security.
They would contribute to a reduction in land use due to human activities, to global water conservation and to a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emission.
The study shows the efficacy of a plant-based diet on blood pressure. However, the translation of this knowledge into real benefits to people, i.e. its effectiveness, depends on a variety of factors related to both individual choices and to governments’ policy decisions.
For example, for an individual, the ability to adopt a plant-based diet would be influenced by socio-economic factors (costs, availability, access), perceived benefits and difficulties, resistance to change, age, health status, low adherence due to palatability and acceptance.
To overcome these barriers, we ought to formulate strategies to influence beliefs about plant-based diets, plant food availability and costs, multisectoral actions to foster policy changes focusing on environmental sustainability of food production, science gathering and health consequences.”
The study was published in the journal Journal of Hypertension (Gibbs et al., 2020).