Heart Health; The current research looked at data on eating habits from a study called the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study that involved over 10,000 US adults of middle age, gathered over 30 years. None of the participants had any cardiovascular disease at their entry into the study. The data was then stratified based on the relative proportion of plant-based and animal base foods. This was compared to the subsequent development of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attacks, and heart failure.
The analysis of dietary patterns used four indices: the overall plant-based diet index, the provegetarian diet index, the health plant-based diet index, and the less healthy plant-based index. The scoring was as follows: in the first two, participants got higher scores if they ate more plant foods in general or from selected categories. An overall plant-based diet covered a broad category of foods, including fruit juices, refined flours, sweets and desserts, and sugary beverages.
Healthy plant foods
In the third, only eating more of the healthy plant foods earned them higher scores, while conversely, with the last index, a higher intake of unhealthy plant foods resulted in higher scores. Increase intake of animal foods was always associated with lower scores. Healthy plant-based foods are those which are nutrient dense and have less refined sugars. They include whole grains, plant proteins, and vegetables.
This is an early attempt to explore the effect of these different dietary approaches in the general population. The results were interesting. People with the highest adherence to overall plant-based or provegetarian diets had between 4 and 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and less than one serving of red or processed meat a day. In contrast, those with the highest intake of less healthy plant base foods ate about 2 servings of fruits and vegetables; also 1.2 servings of red and process meat, every day.
Those in the highest quintile for overall plant base foods or provegetarian diets; which reduce their cardiovascular risk significantly with respect to those who had the lowest; so even after adjusting for the lower rates of numerous confounding factors; like obesity, smoking, drinking, cholesterol levels and diabetes mellitus. When it came to the healthy plant base food index; the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or from any cause was reduce by 19% and 11% respectively.
Role in heart health
There was no reduction in the incidence of new cardiovascular disease with this diet. This include heart attacks requiring hospitalization, fatal coronary heart disease, definite or probable stroke; also heart failure with hospitalization or death. There was no observable trend with the intake of less healthy plant-base foods. When individual foods were examined; it was found that potato intake was surprisingly with a lower incidence of heart disease and stroke, as well as death from all causes.
Plant foods are also classify by dietary specialists as healthy and unhealthy. The American Heart Association (AHA)’s Mariell Jessup endorses this view, saying, “French fries or cauliflower pizza with cheese are plant base but are low in nutritional value and are load with sodium (salt). Unprocess foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables and grains are good choices.”
However, one significant finding from the present study is that overall dietary patterns; which play a stronger role in heart health than individual foods within the diet. This means it is more important to examine diet in toto than to focus on single nutrients or foods; as foods work together or antagonize one another to produce health or disease. The researchers hope that this will spark future studies on specific types of plant foods, and how they impact the risk of death and cardiovascular disease.