Plant-based diets and Cardiovascular health

By: Dr Punit Ramrakha

Published Date: 18/05/21


A plant-based diet (PBD) is one which has a greater focus on food derived from plant sources, with key foods being fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. Over the last 20 years, a growing interest in the association between a PBD and a reduction in cardiovascular disease has generated much research. Randomised controlled trials and epidemiological studies show that PBDs are associated with significant improvement in cardiovascular disease, helping to lower risk factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, and even obesity. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/5/1607S/4596949 https://www.nature.com/articles/nutd20173?report=reader


A US study of 12,168 middle aged adults, followed for 29 years, showed that those who adhered most strictly to a healthy PBD had a 19% lower risk of death due to a cardiovascular cause, (and 11% lower risk of death due to all causes) (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865).

Cardiovascular disease, especially coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of death globally, and it is likely that many individuals who have coronary artery disease are often not aware of their diagnosis until it causes significant medical limitations, or even death.


However, a PBD diet alone is not enough to reduce risk, and the types of food consumed plays an important role in cardiovascular risk. A large study, published in 2017, (https://www.jacc.org/doi/pdf/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047) looked at the diets of health professionals in the US between 1984 to 2012. It compared ‘healthy’ (whole grain, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and vegetable oil) with ‘unhealthy’ (refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes, sweet beverages and desserts) PBDs. Their study showed that a healthy plant-based diet resulted in a 25% risk reduction of developing coronary heart disease, meanwhile an unhealthy PBD was actually positively associated with coronary heart disease.


A common concern about PBD is whether it provides you with all the vitamins and minerals you require. This, of course, depends on your individualised diet, however, supplementations are not routinely recommended since most healthy PBD diets meet all the daily nutrient requirements. For strict vegans, however, some supplementations, such as vitamin B12 can be required.


As the number of individuals following plant-based (and vegetarian/vegan) diets continue to increase in the UK, the transition to a PBD is becoming more accessible and easier to follow for everyone. Some websites that offer advice and recipes to kickstart a PBD include www.forksoverknives.com and https://theplantbaseddiet.com. If more of us are to adopt a PBD, especially those already suffering from cardiovascular disease, there is building evidence to show we can live a healthier and longer life.


Dr Punit Ramrakha, Consultant Cardiologist

HearthealthNews.info - 18 May 2021

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