Vegan diets really ARE good for you: Eating more plant-based foods and cutting back on meat ‘lowers your risk of dying from heart disease by 32%’
- Study found being mostly vegan reduces risk of early death by any cause by 25%
- Scientists stress people do not have to give up meat and dairy completely
- But they should have a ‘larger proportion of plant-based foods’ in their diet
Trendy vegan diets really are good for you, research suggests.
A study of more than 12,000 people found those who ate mostly plant-based foods were 32 per cent less likely to die from heart disease.
Opting for vegetables, whole grains and nuts also reduced their risk of dying from any cause by a quarter over 29 years, scientists found.
The researchers from Johns Hopkins University stress people do not have to give up meat and dairy completely to reap the benefits.
However, they argued people should consume a ‘larger proportion of plant-based foods’ if they want better heart health.
Other experts were quick to point even vegan food, like French fries and soda, can be unhealthy.
People who eat mostly plant-based foods may be less likely to die from a heart attack (stock)
Heart disease is responsible for a quarter of all deaths in the US and UK, statistics show.
Vegetarian diets have been found to reduce risk factors for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
However, studies have thrown up mixed results as to whether cutting back on meat and fish reduces the risk of an early death.
To understand this better, the researchers analysed data from 12,168 participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.
Its participants, who were aged 45-to-64, completed a food questionnaire at the start of the study in 1987.
The researchers then grouped the volunteers, who were considered to be otherwise healthy, according to their adherence to a plant-based diet.
Rates of heart disease and death among the participants were assessed nearly three decades later in 2016.
Results revealed those who ate the most vegan foods were 16 per cent less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than those who consumed the least.
The highest plant-based consumption was defined as an average of 4.1-to-4.8 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day and just 0.8-to-0.9 portions of red or processed meat.
Those with the lowest intake of fruit and vegetables ate an average of 2.3 servings a day and 1.2 portions of meat.
Cutting back on meat also reduced the participants’ risk of dying from heart disease, including heart attacks, stroke or heart failure, by 32 per cent.
And opting for more vegetarian or vegan foods lowered their risk of dying by any cause over the course of the study by 25 per cent.
‘Our findings underscore the importance of focusing on your diet,’ lead author Dr Casey Rebholz said.
WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK?
Figures suggest there are 200,000 hospital visits because of heart attacks in the UK each year, while there are around 800,000 annually in the US.
A heart attack, known medically as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked.
Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and feeling weak and anxious.
Heart attacks are commonly caused by coronary heart disease, which can be brought on by smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Treatment is usually medication to dissolve blots clots or surgery to remove the blockage.
Reduce your risk by not smoking, exercising regularly and drinking in moderation.
Heart attacks are different to a cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, usually due to a problem with electrical signals in the organ.
Source: NHS Choices
‘To reduce cardiovascular disease risk people should eat more vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, legumes and fewer animal-based foods.’
She accepted the findings – in the Journal of the American Heart Association – are ‘pretty consistent’ with other similar research.
Dr Rebholz noted this is one of the first studies to compare the effects of plant versus animal-based diets among the general public.
Past studies that support going vegan for heart health were usually carried out in specific groups of people, such as ‘health-conscious individuals’.
Future research should look at how healthy versus unhealthy plant-based foods impact our heart health and risk of early death, Dr Rebholz said.
Dr Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association (AHA), said: ‘The AHA recommends eating a mostly plant-based diet.
‘[This is] provided the foods you choose are rich in nutrition and low in added sugars, sodium, cholesterol, and artery-clogging saturated and trans fats.
‘French fries or cauliflower pizza with cheese are plant-based but low in nutritional value and are loaded with sodium.
‘Unprocessed foods, like fresh fruit, vegetables and grains, are good choices.’
Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, welcomed the results of the study.
She said: ‘This research is yet more evidence that including more plant-based foods in your diet can help to lower our risk of a heart attack or stroke.
‘You don’t have to cut out all animal products to reap the health rewards, but most of us could benefit from eating more foods like fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in our diets.
‘This is easy to do by bulking out a meat dish with beans or lentils, having some vegetarian meals each week, or by switching cakes and biscuits for fresh fruit or unsalted nuts.
‘But don’t make the mistake of assuming all plant based foods are healthy options.
‘Switching to less healthy plant based choices, such as sugary drinks, crisps or biscuits, is unlikely to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.’
Veganism and vegetarianism has exploded in the last few years, with millions of people looking to cut out animal products for both ethical and health reasons.
ARE VEGAN DIETS SAFE FOR BABIES?
Around 3.5million people living in the UK are vegan – the equivalent of around seven per cent of the population, according to estimates.
And, as the diet has surged in popularity, more mothers are choosing to make their baby a vegan.
The NHS says babies and young children on a vegetarian or vegan diet can get the energy and most of the nutrients they need to grow and develop.
However, the plant-based diet is known to be low in key nutrients for babies, such as vitamin B12 – found milk and eggs, iron, calcium and zinc.
A vitamin B12 deficiency is a rare and treatable cause of failure to thrive and delayed development in infants, researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics.
It can also lead to malnutrition and ‘irreversible damage’ to their nervous systems, experts at University College London once concluded.
An iron deficiency can hinder a child from gaining weight, affect their appetite and energy and can lead to anaemia, which can be life-threatening in severe cases.
Consuming too little protein can lead to stunted growth, nutritionists have warned over the years. But beans, lentils and chickpeas are high in the nutrient.
And eating too much fibre can cause children to feel full quicker and stop them from getting enough food, paediatric dietitian Lucy Upton told the Mail in March.
Two senior lecturers in nutrition at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Shirley Hinde and Ruth Fairchild, said the diet was ‘less than ideal’ for babies.
However, writing in The Conversation they added it is ‘not out of the question’ that the diet could be healthy for a baby.
And they claimed there is ‘no reason’ why a baby couldn’t survive on a vegan diet that was varied in many nutrients, if their parents were sensible.
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