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Plant-based wins again

Healthy Salad

It’s not exactly breaking news that eating a plant-based diet is good for us.  The data is consistent and voluminous that favoring whole foods that are plant-based is protective against heart disease, cancer and even dementia.  But a new study adds hope for those of us who haven’t always adhered to this eating plan – or haven’t been perfect even when attempting to follow it.

The research from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, definitely backs up the idea that eating plant-centered meals frequently reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.   

But it also found that you don’t need to completely eliminate animal products to reduce the risk of developing heart issues.  Did I just hear you say "Phew!"?  Most past research focused on exclusively vegetarian diets.

Another exciting finding: Even if you haven’t followed an exemplary diet your whole life, this study found that improvements in diet are also associated with a big risk reduction.

All of this is great news for people who aren’t interested in strict diets (which don’t work, anyway) and for those, like me, who regret past eating habits.

If you like to dig into numbers:

  • The researchers analyzed data from nearly 5000 Americans aged 18 to 30 years old at study entry. Over 32 years of follow-up, this population experienced 289 cardiovascular events.
  • Participants who ate plant-based foods most frequently -- as well as fewer unhealthy animal products -- had a 52% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Participants who improved their diet quality the most during the first 20 years of follow-up had a 61% lower risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease.

So, what “plant-based” foods are they referring to?  (after all – potato chips are plant based!).  They’re referring to beans, greens, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and grains – all in their most whole and unprocessed forms.  And what “unhealthy” animal products are they calling out?  Processed deli meats, high fat red meats, fried fish, fried chicken, and organ meats.

In other words, the most favorable outcomes were tied to consuming the least processed diet containing a low intake of animal products of any kind. 

Hmmm --- sounds kind of like the dietary advice I always return to:  Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants.

Just saying...

By the way, these same investigators also found that although consuming a low fat diet might yield LDL cholesterol reductions like those experienced by individuals following the plant-based eating approach, it's only the whole-food plant based eaters that experience a meaningful reduction in cardiac events.  

In summary -

  • You don’t have to be perfect you just have to be better
  • It’s never too late to start 
  • Research just keeps validating Step One’s approach — and mission. 
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