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Large 30-Year Study Affirms Heart, Life Extension Benefits of Plant-Based Diets


A research study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) appears to show that people whose diet is mostly or entirely plant-based are less likely to develop heart disease or die from it compared to those whose diets are heavier on meat and carbs.

  • According to the World Health Organization. cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide.

The data analyzed for the JAMA report came from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The study ran from 1987 through 2016 and involved nearly 12,200 adults aged 45 to 64 who did not have heart disease when the research began.

To compare and analyze the cardiovascular and longevity effects of plant-based diets vs. diets heavier in animal products and refined carbohydrates, the researchers divided the study participants into four groups eating plant-based meals and following four different diets:

  • An overall plant-based diet comprising minimally processed foods from plants; some lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy; and sparing intake of red meat
  • A plant-based diet composed mainly of healthy plants such as green vegetables
  • A totally vegetarian diet
  • A diet based on not-so-healthy vegetables, such as potatoes, that also allowed red or processed meats

The results? Compared to those who ate the most meats and carbs, participants who consumed diets providing the most plant-based foods had a 16% lower risk of developing heart disease, about a 32% lower risk of dying from it, and — pay special attention here — from 18 to 25% lower risk of early death from any cause. That’s the life extension benefit.

So — if you’re already vegan, you’re clearly on the right side of these important findings. Why should you care about them, then? Because they strongly indicate that eating more plants than red meats/carbs in any proportion can be more beneficial to heart health and a longer life than the reverse. That’s according to Michelle McMacken, MD (Director of the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue and Assistant Professor of Medicine at NYU Department of Medicine), who did not take part in the research.

In other words, being vegan or vegetarian are only two of various ways people can benefit from eating plants.

“[These findings] strongly suggest that in a general US population who don’t necessarily identify as vegetarian, the higher the proportion of plant foods in the diet, the lower the risk of cardiovascular events and death from any cause,” Dr. McMacken says, pointing out that “plant-based diets are also linked to healthier body weights, lower inflammation, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, better blood pressure and blood vessel function,” and gut-bacteria benefits, all of which, she summarizes, “translate into a lower cardiovascular risk.”

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