Plant-based foods may lower heart disease risk in young adults and older women
06 Aug 2021 --- The consumption of plant-based foods can boost heart health, according to two research studies published in the open access Journal of the American Heart Association.
In two separate studies analyzing different plant food consumption measures, both young adults and postmenopausal women had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) when they ate more healthy plant foods.
Speaking to NutritionInsight, Yuni Choi, lead author of the young adult study and a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, says the findings show that “continued effort to improve diet quality over time can provide the opportunity to reduce later risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of their earlier diet quality.”
In particular, people with a poor diet earlier in life could have lots of room for improvement in terms of the overall diet quality and long-term consequences for health outcomes, Choi notes.
Foods in moderation and variation
The study, titled “A Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease during Young to Middle Adulthood,” evaluated whether long-term consumption of a plant-centered diet and a shift toward a plant-centered diet starting in young adulthood is associated with a lower risk of CVD in midlife.
“Earlier research was focused on single nutrients or single foods, yet there is little data about a plant-centered diet and the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease,” explains Choi.
Choi and colleagues examined diet, and the occurrence of heart disease in 4,946 adults who were free of CVD at that time.
Participants included 2,509 Black adults and 2,437 white adults who were also analyzed by education level.
After diet history interviews, the quality of the participants’ diets was scored based on the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS) composed of 46 food groups at years 0, 7 and 20 of the study.
Participants who received higher scores ate various beneficial foods, while people who had lower scores ate more adverse foods. Overall, higher values correspond to a nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet.
The “Portfolio Diet” study
In another study, “Relationship Between a Plant-Based Dietary Portfolio and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Prospective Cohort Study,” researchers evaluated whether or not diets that included a dietary portfolio of plant-based foods for lowering “bad” cholesterol levels, known as the “Portfolio Diet,” were associated with fewer CVD events in a large group of postmenopausal women.
The “Portfolio Diet” includes nuts; soy; beans or tofu; viscous soluble fiber from oats; barley; okra; eggplant; oranges; apples and berries; and limited consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.
Andrea Glenn, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, in Canada, says: “We know from the clinical trials on the Portfolio Diet that the diet can significantly lower LDL-C and other important CVD risk factors, and now we have evidence that the benefits from the trials likely translate into a lower risk of CVD, particularly coronary heart disease.”
“Plant-based diets are becoming more popular than ever, and it is becoming easier to follow these diets based on food availability in the marketplace and at restaurants, particularly given concerns regarding ethical and environmental impacts of food,” Glenn continues.
“The increasing popularity of plant-based eating will make the foods recommended in the Portfolio Diet easier to incorporate into individuals’ diets.”
Detecting health conditions in postmenopausal women
The study included 123,330 women in the US who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study looking at risk factors, prevention and early detection of severe health conditions in postmenopausal women.
Compared to women who followed the Portfolio Diet less frequently, those with the closest alignment were 11 percent less likely to develop any type of CVD, 14 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 17 percent less likely to develop heart failure.
Further, there was no association between following the Portfolio Diet more closely and the occurrence of stroke or atrial fibrillation.
Plant-based eating to improve health
In recent years, the health benefits of plant-based diets have been in the spotlight.
Last July, studies suggested that plant-based diets high in carbohydrates can improve Type 1 diabetes, a field of research that is often overshadowed by its Type 2 counterpart.
By Elizabeth Green
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.