“Results of this study give people concrete swaps to make in their diet that are supported by research.”
Plant-based foods can slash the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and atherosclerosis when compared to diets that include animal products, a new study finds.
In the study review published in Cardiovascular Research, scientists analysed cohort studies and randomized controlled trials in order to summarise the evidence on CVD risks associated with eating specific food items and develop dietary strategies for atherosclerosis prevention.
Food preferences impact as much as almost 50% of all CVD deaths. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, more than 9.1 million premature deaths from CVD worldwide, which equals 52% of all CVD deaths, are traced to dietary choices.
According to World Heart Federation, CVD – a class of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels (veins and arteries) – is the world’s number one killer, causing over 18.6 million deaths per year.
Atherosclerosis is caused by a buildup of plaque inside artery walls. This buildup is made of several substances including cholesterol and causes the vessels to become narrower and slows down the flow of blood.
The study’s findings
While the study determined that no food is specifically responsible for CVD and atherosclerosis, eating red meat such as beef, pork and lamb and processed meats such as bacon, sausages, salami, ham, and beef jerky, among others, increases cardiovascular risks.
Gabriele Riccardi, MD, is a professor of endocrinology in the department of clinical medicine and surgery at the Federico II University of Naples in Italy. She said in a press release: “There is no indication that any food is poison in terms of cardiovascular risk. It’s a matter of quantity and frequency of consumption.
“A mistake we made in the past was to consider one dietary component the enemy and the only thing we had to change. Instead, we need to look at diets as a whole and if we reduce the amount of one food, it is important to choose a healthy replacement.”
Researchers found that plant-based foods while limiting the consumption of refined cereals and starchy foods improved cardiovascular health. They recommended eating 400 g per day of fruits and vegetables and 30 g per day of nuts to help lower atherosclerosis and overall CVD risk.
Also, replacing dairy butter with vegetable oils (except coconut and palm oils) had similar benefits.
The study showed no negative implications of poultry, fish and dairy on atherosclerosis. However, researchers recommended legumes as alternatives to animal-based protein and said higher glycemic index foods such as white bread and white rice should be replaced with low glycemic index products such as whole grains, oats, barley, pasta and corn for better health outcomes.
Citing results of the study, Hannah Killion, MS, RDN, CDCES, founder of Diabetes from the Ground Up, LLC said: “I think the results of this study give people concrete swaps to make in their diet that are supported by research. Often, the thought of eating ‘heart healthy’ is kind of vague and misunderstood by the general population,”
Oxford study on meat impact on heart
The study findings align with a recent Oxford study – the largest ever analysis of its kind.
Researchers at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health analyzed data from 13 cohort studies for which they monitored the health of more than 1.4 million people for up to 30 years.
They found that eating 50g of processed meat a day raises heart disease risk by 18%.
Meanwhile, unprocessed red meat increases the risk by 9%.
“We know that meat production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and we need to reduce meat production and consumption to benefit the environment,” Anika Knüppel, one of the study authors said:
“Our study shows that a reduction in red and processed meat intake would bring personal health benefits too.”
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