A plant-based diet is praised for its health benefits, including the reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, researchers have discovered that ultra-processed plant-based foods do not offer these benefits and are actually linked to an increased risk of heart disease and heart-related mortality.

The findings of the latest study published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe suggest that consuming plant-based ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is associated with a 7% greater risk of cardiovascular diseases compared to eating unprocessed plant-based foods.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are associated with health risks such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Although meat-free alternatives like processed burgers, nuggets, and sausages are often marketed as healthier options, they typically contain higher levels of salt, fat, and sugar, along with artificial additives.

"Fresh plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes are known to have important health and environmental benefits. While ultra-processed foods are often marketed as healthy foods, this large study shows that plant-based ultra-processed foods do not seem to have protective health effects and are linked to poor health outcomes," Dr. Eszter Vamos, co-author of the latest study said in a news release.

The researchers made the findings after evaluating data from more than 118,000 people from the UK Biobank study. The participants were aged 40 to 69 and their diets were examined for over at least two days. The researchers then linked the participant data with their respective hospital and mortality records to obtain information on cardiovascular diseases.

"The consumption of all plant-based foods together showed no association with any of the related diseases. Eating more plant-based non-UPFs was linked to better health outcomes, and replacing plant-based UPFs with plant-based non-UPFs was linked with a 7% lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and a 15% lower risk of mortality associated with these conditions. But consumption of plant-based UPFs was associated with an increased risk of both outcomes," the researchers concluded.

The researchers also noted that with a 10% increase in the dietary contribution of plant-based non-UPFs, there was a 13% reduction in mortality from all cardiovascular diseases and a 20% reduction in mortality caused by coronary heart disease.

Based on the study findings, the researchers recommend encouraging people to reduce their consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) while also promoting plant-based diets. They emphasize that the focus should be not only on reducing meat and animal products but also on minimizing the level of food processing.