“It’s clear that following a plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. But do all plant-based diets have the same effect? And do you really have to cut out all meat for your heart’s sake?” asks researchers from Harvard University.
Experts agree it’s the quality of plant foods that count, and reducing – not eliminating consumption of animal foods – helps protect the heart.
“A plant-based diet is increasingly becoming recognized as a healthier alternative to a diet laden with meat. Atherosclerosis (a plaque build-up in the coronary arteries) -- associated with a high dietary intake of meat, fat, and carbohydrates -- remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. This condition results from progressive damage to cells lining the vascular system, which includes the heart,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Healthy eating, through a plant-based diet, is defined as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as all refined and processed foods,” the NIH explains.
“Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases, and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates.”
The NIH encourages eating a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seeds, and nuts. A plant-based diet can go beyond salads to included steamed greens tucked into grain bowls, richly spiced vegetable stews, and multi-fruit smoothies.
Plant-based diets are nutrient dense, nourishing the body with vitamins and stomach-filling fiber. The NIH adds, “We can’t cure chronic diseases, but we may be able to prevent and control them by changing how we eat.”