A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) confirms diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods might be linked to a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases. It’s also linked to better heart health.

The study acknowledged previous studies having documented the cardiometabolic health benefits of plant‐based diets. These studies however, were conducted in selected study populations. The study was observational, which means it did not prove cause and effect.

This is one of the first studies that examined the proportion of plant-based versus animal-based dietary patterns in the general population. Other studies have revealed heart-health benefits from plant-based diets but only in specific populations of people. These include vegetarians or Seventh Day Adventists who eat a mostly vegan diet.

On the other hand, this extensive new study used data from a community‐based cohort of 12,169 middle‐aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study followed-up from 1987 through 2016. The participants did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

For the study's purposes, their diet was classified into four diet indices: overall plant‐based diet index, provegetarian diet index, healthy plant‐based diet index and less healthy plant‐based diet index.

In all indices, higher intakes of animal foods received lower scores.

"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," lead researcher Casey M. Rebholz, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, said.

The study found that people who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a:

* 16 percent lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other conditions;

* 32 percent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease and

* 25 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those that ate the least amount of plant-based foods.

"Our findings underscore the importance of focusing on your diet,” Dr. Rebholz said.

He noted there might be some changes in terms of individual foods but people should eat more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes and fewer animal-based foods to cut cardiovascular disease risk.

These findings are consistent with previous findings about other dietary regimens. These include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) that focuses on the same food items.

Future research on plant-based diets should examine if the quality of plant foods -- healthy versus less healthy -- impacts cardiovascular disease and death risks, Dr. Rebholz added.

Eating a mostly plant-based diet is recommended by the American Heart Association. The caveat is that the foods you choose are rich in nutrition and low in added sugars, sodium (salt), cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated and trans fats.

Vegan diet
Following a vegan diet comes with a handful of health benefits, but ending a relationship with animal products can also result in vitamin deficiencies. Photo courtesy of Pexels