New Research Confirms Link Between Plant-Based Diets and Heart Health

By Alexandra Caspero on July 14, 2023
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

You get the results back from your doctor.  The diagnosis is a combination of hypertension, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease.  For far too many people, this is the inevitable on-ramp to aging. Maybe there’s another way. 

For a healthier life, the solution may be as simple as what’s on your plate. A comprehensive analysis examining all dietary clinical trials conducted over the past four decades shows a notable decrease in the likelihood of developing heart disease among individuals adhering to vegetarian and vegan diets.  Compared to those eating an omnivorous diet, plant-based dieters had an average 7% reduction in total cholesterol levels, a 10% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, and a 14% reduction in apolipoprotein B, a blood protein used to estimate heart disease risk. 

Results like those confirm that plant-based diets play a significant part in lowering the risk of both stroke and heart attacks, researchers concluded in a 2023 review published in the European Heart Journal. 

“A diet consisting of a variety of grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables can help to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, which is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk,” says Cindy Chou, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and chef at Cancer Nutrition in a Bowl

Marc Conner, 53, knows this all too well. Like most Americans, Marc’s diet wasn’t a point of focus.  He simply sought out foods that were accessible and flavorful. That mindset quickly shifted several years ago when he went for his annual check-up.  There, he learned that he had high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels and was on the cusp of obesity.  Things had to change. Unlike many Americans, Marc decided to skip the medication and try a plant-based diet instead. 

Vegan Falafel Burger With Vegetables And Sauce, Dark Background. Healthy Food Concept.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Cardiovascular Disease is the #1 Cause of Death

Globally, more than 18 million people die from heart disease yearly, making it the world’s leading cause of death. In the United States, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 5 American deaths and a large economic burden– roughly $220 billion is spent nationally each year on healthcare services, medicine, and lost productivity.

As decades of studies continue to show, heart disease is largely preventable. Poor diet and physical inactivity are major risk factors for developing heart disease. 

This past April, the American Heart Association (AHA) released an updated algorithm for evaluating cardiovascular health, looking specifically at diet, physical activity, body mass index (BMI), and other health risks such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. 

Called Life’s Essential 8, the American Heart Association put forth specific recommendations for lowering heart disease risk. The necessary first steps focus on diet: incorporating whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, heart-healthy oils such as olive and canola, and lean protein sources, specifically focusing on plant-based choices such as lentils, beans, and soy foods. 

Vegetarian Snack Of Tacos With Chickpea Curry And Sour Cream Sauce With Parsley, Spinach, Green Onions And Sprouted Flax Seeds. Healthy Plant Based Food. Top View On Light Background, Flat Lay
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The Plant-Based Perception

A diet shift toward more plant-based foods is advocated for on sustainable, ethical, and health grounds. Still, diet change remains a challenge. A 2022 survey asked roughly 7600 individuals why they were reluctant to shift their diet towards vegetarian or vegan. 

Many believe that humans are meant to eat lots of animal-based meat, and the expectation that plant-based food products wouldn’t taste as good. Other reasons include the thought that plant-based food wouldn’t be filling enough or that eating this way wouldn’t help build strength or energy. 

Karen Kelly, a health coach at Seasonal Cravings, says, “In my experience with clients, I find they are reluctant to try a plant-based diet because they assume it will be challenging to go out to eat or attend social events with friends, even though they usually have many options.”

To encourage more people to try plant-based diets, education needs to focus on addressing these consumer concerns. A 2023 study on strength performance placed individuals on a vegan or omnivorous diet for 16 weeks.  The results showed no difference in strength performance for the leg or bench press after changing to a vegan diet. 

“A well-balanced plant-based diet can be just as delicious and filling, if not more so, then its omnivorous counterpart as plant-based meals are often rich in fiber, which promotes a sense of fullness and aids in better digestion,” says Jessie Hulsey RD, LD, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian. “By embracing the abundance of vibrant fruits, vegetables, lentils, and whole grains, {plant-based diets offer a} world of diverse flavors and textures.” 

Ready Prepared Options as a Solution

Even with the known benefits of shifting to plant-based dietary patterns, most consumers are reluctant to identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan. However, the shift towards flexitarian is noteworthy. 

The number of flexitarians, defined as those who eat primarily vegetarian with the occasional inclusion of meat, has steadily increased over the last decade. In the US, roughly 12% of adults identify as flexitarian. More than half (58%) of the American adults who identify as flexitarians believe that a meatless diet is a healthier option. 

For those on the plant-based fence, ready-prepared options may be a simple solution. Consumers in the former study noted that availability was one of the most significant barriers in enjoying plant-based food. As the market continues to offer more ready-prepared, healthful options, these shifts are likely to increase. 

That’s why Marc Conner, previously on track to develop cardiovascular disease, changed his dietary approach– and started rootberry, a company committed to making convenient, tasty, plant-rich meals that everyone can enjoy. 

Rootberry is the latest plant-based meal delivery service to offer such solutions. Founded in 2020, the St. Louis-based company has recently launched nationwide. With 13 items, rootberry aims to bridge the gap between delicious food that just happens to be plant-based. 

“From the beginning, our mission has been clear to us – create ways for more people to eat more plants more often” says Connor, Co-founder and President or rootberry. “Almost everybody struggles two to three times a day with what to eat and whether to pick something tasty, healthy, or fast. We want to serve up food that is all three in one.  People are amazed when they try things like our Tikka Masala, Sweet Corn Risotto, Fettucine Alfredo, or Blueberry Oat Bars because they love the food and there is no sacrifice or compromise.”

This article was produced by Delish Knowledge and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Chef, and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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