A plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health and it doesn’t have to be fully vegetarian.
Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death across the developed world and primarily to blame are modern diets rich in red meat like beef and saturated fats like highly processed food.
Even as unhealthy diets can cause chronic ailments over time, food production also harms the planet. Agriculture accounts for nearly a third of carbon emissions while it also drives deforestation, large-scale water pollution, biodiversity loss and other harmful pratices. Raising cattle is especially harmful for the planet.
Medical experts and environmentalists alike have been urging people to adopt plant-based diets to protect their health and the environment at the same time. Now two new studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association give further evidence of the benefits of such diets.
In one long-term study, involving nearly 5,000 young adults between 18 and 30 years old, it was found that they were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and suffer heart attacks on healthy plant-based diets, which included a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in addition to non-fat dairy products and lean white meat such as chicken breast.
“People who scored in the top 20% on the long-term diet quality score (meaning they ate the most nutritionally rich plant foods and fewer adversely rated animal products) were 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, after considering several factors (including age, sex, race, average caloric consumption, education, parental history of heart disease, smoking and average physical activity),” the researchers explain.
In the other study, involving more than 123,000 postmenopausal women between teh ages of 50 and 79, researchers reached a similar conclusion, indicating that healthy diets can have positive impacts on cardiovascular health during various stages of life.
“A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” explains Yuni Choi, a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis who was the lead author of the young adult study.
“People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy,” Choi adds.
Adopting such diets on a large scale could also have positive environmental impacts as it has long been well-established that healthy plant-based diets are also more environmentally friendly.
Raising cattle for meat is far more deleterious to the environment, for instance, than raising chicken or growing plant-based proteins such as legumes. By turning our backs on beef entirely, each one of us could have as great an impact on the climate as giving up a car that runs on gasoline, experts have noted.