August 4, 2021 — 10:28 AM
There are so many factors that go into our heart health—and diet is certainly one of them. As we decide which foods to fill our plates with, new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association points to one particular food group that could have significant heart benefits: plants!
Studying the effects of diet long term.
For this study, researchers wanted to understand the impact of diet on heart health in the long term and, specifically, plant-centered diets.
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Beginning in 1985, nearly 5,000 healthy young adults, ages 18 to 30, took part in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Over the next 32 years, the participants had follow-up exams, which included things like lifestyle factors, physical measurements, lab tests, and more.
By studying their lifestyles, and namely diets, over the course of the study, researchers could see how their dietary choices correlated with cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Within the 32 years of follow-ups, 289 of the participants ended up with cardiovascular disease. But interestingly, plant foods stood out as a way to potentially mitigate that risk and maintain heart health.
According to the findings, those who had better heart-health scores were much more likely to eat a “plant-centered diet.” The study authors note there weren’t many strictly vegetarian subjects, but some were clearly eating more plants on a regular basis.
In fact, those eating a plant-centered diet (and less “adverse” animal products, like processed red meat) were 52% less likely to develop heart disease. Additionally, as participants got older, the ones who took steps to improve their diet over time were 61% less likely to develop heart disease compared to those whose diet became less healthy.
Based on these findings, it would appear the more plants on your plate, the better—at least when it comes to your heart health. And you don’t even have to be strictly vegetarian or vegan; it’s about a healthy variety of quality, nutritious foods—with an emphasis on the plants.
As Yuni Choi, Ph.D., lead author of the study, explains in a news release, “A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian.” She notes that the key is to go for plant foods that are “as close to natural as possible,” adding that “animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy,” aren’t going to be detrimental to your health.
Simple swaps like making meat your side dish and plants your main, or getting a side salad instead of french fries, can go a long way. And for what it’s worth, it’s nice to know that it’s never too late to turn your diet around for the sake of your heart.