London: Following a plant-based diet and avoiding junk food like sweets, refined grains and juice are likely to have a healthy heart as compared to people who don't eat a plant-based diet, a new study suggests.
For the findings, researchers tracked eating behaviour and the development of heart disease among more than 2,000 Greek adults over a 10-year period, beginning in 2002.
Participants were asked to complete a detailed food frequency survey at the time of enrollment, after five years and after 10 years.
"The findings highlight that even a small reduction in the daily consumption of animal-based products--principally the less healthy foods, such as processed meat products--accompanied by an increase in healthy plant-based foods may contribute to better cardiovascular health," said study's lead author Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Professor at Harokopio University of Athens in Greece.
At the end of the study period, researchers analysed the relationship between diet and the development of cardiovascular disease using a dietary index that divided participants into three groups based on the number of animal-based foods (which included meats as well as animal-derived products such as eggs and dairy) they consumed per day.
Overall, men eating fewer animal-based foods were 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease compared to men eating more animal-based foods.
The same overall trend was seen in women, but the relationship was less strong, with an overall risk reduction of about 11 per cent among women eating the fewest animal-based foods.
Focusing in on participants who followed a more plant-based diet, researchers then categorised each participant's diet as either healthy (reflecting increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oils and tea or coffee) or unhealthy (reflecting increased consumption of juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes and sweets).
Only participants following a healthful plant-based diet had a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk compared to those who ate more animal-based products.
Differences in eating patterns--and associated cardiovascular risk reduction--were also observed between women and men.
In general, men ate about three times per day while women tended to snack more, eating four to five times daily.
At the same time, women showed a more dramatic increase in heart disease risk when eating an unhealthy plant-based diet and a more dramatic reduction in risk when eating a healthful plant-based diet compared to men who fell into the same two categories.
This suggests that snacking on healthful foods can be beneficial while snacking on unhealthy foods can bring higher risks, the researchers said.
The research is scheduled to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology on March 28-30 in the US.
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