New research has confirmed studies that have indicated how beneficial a diet rich in nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans can be; eating them regularly over a long period of time and consuming fewer foods like salty snacks, soft drinks, and fatty red meats, reduces a person's chance of cardiovascular disease. Modifying the diet around mid-life to include more of these foods can also significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases like clogged arteries, stroke, and heart attack.
Reporting in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the new study followed individuals over 32 years. In this research, 4,946 volunteers were enrolled around 1985 when they were between the ages of 18 and 30. About half of the individuals were Black, half were white, and about 55 percent were women. Eight follow-up exams were conducted around 1987 and 2016 to assess a variety of characteristics including medical history and lifestyle factors, and the participants gave detailed reports abut their diets.
The researchers scored these diets (without telling the volunteers what they should or should not eat, and without revealing the scores to the participants), based on whether foods were beneficial (vegetables, fruits, etc.), adverse (high-fat red meat, fried foods, pastries, salty snacks, soft drinks), or neutral (refined grains, lean meats, shellfish) according to their known links to cardiovascular disease.
The researchers found that people with the highest quaility diets - those in the top 20 percent of scores, who ate plant foods and whole grains, were 52 percent less likely to get a cardiovascular disease, even when other factors like smoking and physical activity were considered. Over the 32 years, 289 people in the study developed a cardiovascular health problem like heart-related chest pain, clogged arteries, heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
People in the study who improved their diet the most between the seventh and twentieth year of the research project, when they were between 25 and 50 years old were also 61 percent less likely to subsequently develop cardiovascular disease.
While studies like this are important because they involve humans and not animal models, they are conducted over long periods of time, and they have statistical power especially because they include so many people, they unfortunately still do not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the plant-based diet and lower cardiovascular disease risk.
Almost no vegetarians were included in the study, so a strict plant diet could not be evaluated in this context.
"A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian," said lead study author Yuni Choi, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota School. "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."