Plant A Diet

Re­duce risk of heart dis­ease with a plant-based diet

Health & Nutrition - - CONTENTS -

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? “For heart health pro­tec­tion, your diet needs to fo­cus on the qual­ity of plant foods, and it’s pos­si­ble to ben­e­fit by re­duc­ing your con­sump­tion of an­i­mal foods with­out com­pletely elim­i­nat­ing them from your diet,” says Dr Am­bika Satija of the Department of Nu­tri­tion at the Har­vard T H Chan School of Pub­lic Health.

Make Good Choices

There are many types of plant-based di­ets, but they all em­pha­size on cer­tain foods as­so­ci­ated with heart ben­e­fits, such as whole grain, fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes, nuts, and healthy oils like olive oil. The di­ets that have been most stud­ied for their im­pact on heart health in­clude the Mediter­ranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet. These di­ets are rich in fi­bre, vi­ta­mins, and min­er­als that help lower blood pres­sure and LDL (bad) choles­terol, re­duce the risk of di­a­betes, and help main­tain a healthy weight, all of which can lower your risk of heart dis­ease. Yet, the types of plant foods and their sources are also im­por­tant. For ex­am­ple, white rice and white bread are plant­based foods, so you would think they’re good to eat. But they are highly pro­cessed, and so are de­pleted of many heart-healthy nu­tri­ents and have a high glycemic in­dex, which means they can make blood su­gar lev­els spike and in­crease hunger, lead­ing to overeat­ing. Drink­ing 100% fruit juice is not the same as eat­ing the whole fruit, since juices can be high in

su­gar and squeeze out valu­able fi­bre and vi­ta­mins. And many canned plant foods in­clude ex­tra ad­di­tives, sodium, and su­gar.

The Meat Of Plant Di­ets

The other ques­tion deals with a man’s ap­petite for an­i­mal prod­ucts. When it comes to your heart, are all an­i­mal foods off the ta­ble? Maybe not – if you’re smart about your choices. Dr Satija led a study, pub­lished in the ‘Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­ogy’, that ex­am­ined the di­etary data of about 2,09,000 adults (43,000 of whom were men) over two decades. The re­searchers com­pared the heart dis­ease risk posed by these three cat­e­gories of plant-based di­ets: An over­all plant-based diet that em­pha­sized con­sump­tion of all healthy plant foods while re­duc­ing in­take of all an­i­mal foods, like dairy (skim, low-fat, and whole milk; cream, ice cream, yo­gurt, and cheese), eggs, fish, meat (chicken, tur­key, beef, and pork); and foods that con­tain an­i­mal prod­ucts like pizza, soups, and may­on­naise. A health­ful plant-based diet that em­pha­sized con­sump­tion of only healthy plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, legumes, and healthy oils, while re­duc­ing the in­take of less healthy plant foods as well as an­i­mal foods. An un­health­ful plant­based diet that em­pha­sized con­sump­tion of less healthy plant foods, such as fruit juices, re­fined grains (pasta, white rice, and pro­cessed breads and ce­re­als), po­ta­toes (French fries and potato chips), and su­gar-sweet­ened bev­er­ages, while re­duc­ing the in­take of healthy plant foods as well as an­i­mal foods.

A health­ful plant-based diet em­pha­sized on con­sump­tion of only healthy plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, legumes, and healthy oils, while re­duc­ing the in­take of less healthy plant foods.

No sur­prise, they found that the peo­ple who fol­lowed the healthy plant-based diet (the sec­ond group) had the low­est risk for heart dis­ease. They were also more ac­tive and leaner. On the other hand, those who fol­lowed the un­health­ful plant­based diet (the third group) had a sub­stan­tially higher risk for heart dis­ease. Thus, the study found that re­duc­ing an­i­mal foods doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily lead to a health­ier diet and greater heart pro­tec­tion if the re­sult­ing diet is based on less healthy plant foods. While this study didn’t look at which an­i­mal foods, es­pe­cially meat, could have an im­pact on heart health, other re­search has shown that, as with plant foods, the type and amount mat­ter most. For in­stance, a study in the ‘Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion’ found that eat­ing 3 ounces of un­pro­cessed red meat, three times per week, did not worsen blood pres­sure and to­tal choles­terol lev­els. How­ever, a re­cent study showed that men aged be­tween 45 and 79 who ate 75 grams or more per day of pro­cessed red meat, like cold cuts, sausage, ba­con, and hot dogs, had a 28% higher risk of heart fail­ure com­pared with men who ate less than 25 grams.

Mak­ing The Change

What is the right plant-based diet for you? You don’t need to go full veg­e­tar­ian or ve­gan (avoid­ing all an­i­mal prod­ucts, even eggs and dairy) to get the best heart health ben­e­fits. The fo­cus should be on eat­ing more of the right plants, avoid­ing the wrong kind, elim­i­nat­ing un­healthy foods, and mod­er­at­ing your in­take of health­ier an­i­mal prod­ucts. A heart-healthy diet doesn’t need to be daunt­ing either. “For many men, this may be a mat­ter of switch­ing out their cur­rent foods,” says Dr Satija. For in­stance, re­place white rice with brown rice or other whole grains, and white bread with whole­grain bread. Choose oat­meal in­stead of pro­cessed cereal, and wa­ter in­stead of juice drinks. If em­brac­ing a full plant-based diet feels in­tim­i­dat­ing, then be­gin small. “A mod­er­ate change in your diet, such as low­er­ing your an­i­mal food in­take by one to two serv­ings per day and re­plac­ing it with legumes or nuts as your pro­tein source, can have a last­ing pos­i­tive im­pact on your health,” says Dr Satija.

The fo­cus should be on eat­ing more of the right plants, avoid­ing the wrong kind, elim­i­nat­ing un­healthy foods, and mod­er­at­ing your in­take of health­ier an­i­mal prod­ucts.

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