Eating More Plant Foods May Lower Heart Disease Risk in Young Adults and Older Women

Eating more nutritious, plant-based foods is heart-healthy at any age, according to two research studies published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.

In two separate studies analyzing different measures of healthy plant food consumption, researchers found that both young adults and postmenopausal women had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease when they ate more healthy plant foods.

The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations suggest an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils. It also advises limited consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugary drinks.

One study, titled “A Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease during Young to Middle Adulthood,” evaluated whether long-term consumption of a plant-centered diet and a shift toward a plant-centered diet starting in young adulthood are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in midlife.

“Earlier research was focused on single nutrients or single foods, yet there is little data about a plant-centered diet and the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Yuni Choi, Ph.D., lead author of the young adult study and a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

Choi and colleagues examined diet and the occurrence of heart disease in 4,946 adults enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Participants were 18- to 30-years-old at the time of enrollment (1985-1986) in this study and were free of cardiovascular disease at that time. Participants included 2,509 Black adults and 2,437 white adults (54.9% women overall) who were also analyzed by education level (equivalent to more than high school vs. high school or less). Participants had eight follow-up exams from 1987-88 to 2015-16 that included lab tests, physical measurements, medical histories and assessment of lifestyle factors. Unlike randomized controlled trials, participants were not instructed to eat certain things and were not told their scores on the diet measures, so the researchers could collect unbiased, long-term habitual diet data.

After detailed diet history interviews, the quality of the participants diets was scored based on the A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS) composed of 46 food groups at years 0, 7 and 20 of the study. The food groups were classified into beneficial foods (such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains); adverse foods (such as fried potatoes, high-fat red meat, salty snacks, pastries and soft drinks); and neutral foods (such as potatoes, refined grains, lean meats and shellfish) based on their known association with cardiovascular disease.

Participants who received higher scores ate a variety of beneficial foods, while people who had lower scores ate more adverse foods. Overall, higher values correspond to a nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet.

“As opposed to existing diet quality scores that are usually based on small numbers of food groups, APDQS is explicit in capturing the overall quality of diet using 46 individual food groups, describing the whole diet that the general population commonly consumes. Our scoring is very comprehensive, and it has many similarities with diets like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Healthy Eating Index (from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service), the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet,“ said David E. Jacobs Jr., Ph.D., senior author of the study and Mayo Professor of Public Health in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

Researchers found:

  • During 32 years of follow-up, 289 of the participants developed cardiovascular disease (including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, heart-related chest pain or clogged arteries anywhere in the body).
  • People who scored in the top 20% on the long-term diet quality score (meaning they ate the most nutritionally rich plant foods and fewer adversely rated animal products) were 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, after considering several factors (including age, sex, race, average caloric consumption, education, parental history of heart disease, smoking and average physical activity).
  • In addition, between year 7 and 20 of the study when participants ages ranged from 25 to 50, those who improved their diet quality the most (eating more beneficial plant foods and fewer adversely rated animal products) were 61% less likely to develop subsequent cardiovascular disease, in comparison to the participants whose diet quality declined the most during that time.
  • There were few vegetarians among the participants, so the study was not able to assess the possible benefits of a strict vegetarian diet, which excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs.

“A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” Choi said. “People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs and low-fat dairy.”

Because this study is observational, it cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between diet and heart disease.

In another study, “Relationship Between a Plant-Based Dietary Portfolio and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Prospective Cohort Study,” researchers, in collaboration with WHI investigators led by Simin Liu, M.D., Ph.D., at Brown University, evaluated whether or not diets that included a dietary portfolio of plant-based foods with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved health claims for lowering “bad” cholesterol levels (known as the “Portfolio Diet”) were associated with fewer cardiovascular disease events in a large group of postmenopausal women.

The “Portfolio Diet” includes nuts; plant protein from soy, beans or tofu; viscous soluble fiber from oats, barley, okra, eggplant, oranges, apples and berries; plant sterols from enriched foods and monounsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil and avocadoes; along with limited consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol. Previously, two randomized trials demonstrated that reaching high target levels of foods included in the Portfolio Diet resulted in significant lowering of “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), more so than a traditional low-saturated-fat National Cholesterol and Education Program diet in one study and on par with taking a cholesterol-lowering statin medication in another.

The study analyzed whether postmenopausal women who followed the Portfolio Diet experienced fewer heart disease events. The study included 123,330 women in the U.S. who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term national study looking at risk factors, prevention and early detection of serious health conditions in postmenopausal women. When the women in this analysis enrolled in the study between 1993 and 1998, they were between 50-79 years old (average age of 62) and did not have cardiovascular disease. The study group was followed until 2017 (average follow-up time of 15.3 years). Researchers used self-reported food-frequency questionnaires data to score each woman on adherence to the Portfolio Diet.

The researchers found:

  • Compared to women who followed the Portfolio Diet less frequently, those with the closest alignment were 11% less likely to develop any type of cardiovascular disease, 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 17% less likely to develop heart failure.
  • There was no association between following the Portfolio Diet more closely and the occurrence of stroke or atrial fibrillation.

“These results present an important opportunity, as there is still room for people to incorporate more cholesterol-lowering plant foods into their diets. With even greater adherence to the Portfolio dietary pattern, one would expect an association with even less cardiovascular events, perhaps as much as cholesterol-lowering medications. Still, an 11% reduction is clinically meaningful and would meet anyone’s minimum threshold for a benefit. The results indicate the Portfolio Diet yields heart-health benefits,” said John Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study at St. Michael’s Hospital, a site of Unity Health Toronto in Ontario, Canada, and associate professor of nutritional sciences and medicine at the University of Toronto.

The researchers believe the results highlight possible opportunities to lower heart disease by encouraging people to consume more foods in the Portfolio Diet.

“We also found a dose response in our study, meaning that you can start small, adding one component of the Portfolio Diet at a time, and gain more heart-health benefits as you add more components,” said Andrea J. Glenn, M.Sc., R.D., lead author of the study and a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and in nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

Although the study was observational and cannot directly establish a cause-and-effect relation between diet and cardiovascular events, researchers feel it provides a most reliable estimate for the diet-heart relation to-date due to its study design (included well-validated food frequency questionnaires administered at baseline and year three in a large population of highly dedicated participants). Nevertheless, the investigators report that these findings need to be further investigated in additional populations of men or younger women.

Source: American Heart Association

Switch to Plant-Based Diet Can Cut Your Odds for Stroke

A healthy, plant-based diet could reduce your risk of stroke by up to 10%, researchers say.

This type of diet includes greater amounts of foods like vegetables, whole grains and beans, and fewer less-healthy foods like refined grains or added sugars.

“Many studies already show that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of all kinds of diseases, from heart disease to diabetes,” said study author Dr. Megu Baden, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.

“We wanted to find out if there is an association between this kind of healthy diet and stroke risk,” Baden said.

The findings were published online March 10 in the journal Neurology.

The investigators looked at nearly 210,000 people who didn’t have heart disease or cancer at the outset. The participants were followed for more than 25 years, and they completed food questionnaires every two to four years.

The researchers divided the participants into five groups based on the amounts of plant-based foods they ate, without excluding all animal foods.

On average, people with the highest healthy plant-based diets had 12 servings of healthy plant-based foods like leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, beans and vegetable oils a day, while those with the lowest quality diets averaged 7.5 servings per day.

During the follow-up period, about 6,240 participants had strokes, including 3,015 who had ischemic strokes (caused by blocked blood flow to the brain) and 853 who had hemorrhagic (bleeding) strokes. The type of stroke was not known for the remainder of those who had a stroke.

Compared to people with the lowest consumption of healthful plant-based foods, those with the highest intake had a 10% lower overall risk of stroke, and about an 8% lower risk of ischemic stroke. There was no difference in the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

The researchers also found no association between a vegetarian diet and stroke risk. But this might be because a vegetarian diet doesn’t necessarily mean a high-quality diet, Baden said in a journal news release.

“A vegetarian diet high in less-healthy plant-based foods, such as refined grains, added sugars and fats, is one example of how the quality of some so-called ‘healthy’ diets differ. Our findings have important public health implications as future nutrition policies to lower stroke risk should take the quality of food into consideration,” Baden explained.

Source: HealthDay

How a Plant-Based Diet May Lower Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Sari Harrar wrote . . . . . . . . .

Healthy eating habits such as consuming plenty of vegetables, choosing whole grains over refined carbohydrates, and getting protein from nuts and fish rather than red meat may help stave off symptoms associated with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, at least two studies have shown. (A progressive disorder that affects about 930,000 Americans, Parkinson’s disease is characterized primarily by tremor, stiffness, and movement difficulty.)

According to a large Harvard University study published in Neurology last August, people who had healthy diets in their thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties were less likely to experience pre-Parkinson’s nonmotor symptoms later in life. A January 2019 study in Movement Disorders found that those who followed the so-called Mediterranean diet had a 21 percent lower risk for developing pre-Parkinson’s symptoms.

Furthermore, a January 2021 study in Movement Disorders showed a correlation between a Mediterranean-like diet and a later onset of Parkinson’s disease. The study of 225 Parkinson’s patients found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet developed Parkinson’s 17.4 years later than those who didn’t regularly consume such Mediterranean-diet staples as leafy greens, berries, and poultry; for men, the difference was 8.4 years.

The Harvard study tracked 47,679 women and men for approximately 30 years. Subjects who scored in the top fifth for healthy eating were 33 percent less likely to eventually have at least three pre-Parkinson’s nonmotor symptoms—which include REM (rapid eye movement) sleep behavior disorder, excessive daytime sleepiness, constipation, depression, anxiety, and urinary and erectile problems—compared with those who scored in the lowest fifth on measures of healthy eating. The measures used were the Alternate Healthy Eating Index and the Mediterranean diet, both of which emphasize produce, whole grains, and fats from nuts, olive oil, and fish and discourage red meat and refined carbohydrates.

“These studies suggest that Parkinson’s disease may not be inevitable,” says E. Ray Dorsey, MD, MBA, professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “The Mediterranean diet may even decrease the risk of ever developing it in the first place,” he says, citing a 2007 Harvard School of Public Health study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that tracked 131,368 people for 16 years. Those who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet were less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who skimped on fruits and vegetables and ate more meat, refined grains, high-fat dairy products, and sweets.

Perhaps the results of the studies will motivate people to take a second helping of salad or veggies at dinner, sprinkle walnuts on their morning oatmeal, or dig into a bowl of vegetarian chili on a cold winter afternoon, says Silke A. Cresswell, MD, associate professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the 2021 Movement Disorders study.

Researchers like Dr. Cresswell theorize that a healthy diet may lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease by nurturing beneficial gut bacteria that reduce inflammation and foster healthy insulin sensitivity. Inflammation in the gut could lead to inflammation in the brain, which may contribute to brain cell loss, explains Dr. Cresswell. Insulin resistance, which is more prevalent in people with Parkinson’s disease than in the general population, appears to contribute to a buildup of protein clumps inside nerve cells that may lead to the death of dopamine-producing brain cells, she says. Loss of dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

A weak antioxidant defense system can leave brain cells vulnerable to damage by free radicals. Getting plenty of antioxidant compounds from fruits and vegetables may protect cells from damage, says Dr. Cresswell, adding that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish and nuts provide building blocks for neuron walls.

“We suspect that for some people, Parkinson’s may begin in the gut,” Dr. Dorsey says. Research shows that people with Parkinson’s have a different makeup of gut bacteria from the general population, which may contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance, says Dr. Cresswell.

“I counsel patients to eat a healthy diet for many reasons,” says Michael S. Okun, MD, FAAN, professor and chair of neurology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We hope for emerging data to guide us on diets that may improve function as well as absorption of Parkinson’s medications,” he says. “The evidence is not strong enough yet for us to endorse one approach over another.”

While scientists continue to explore the relationship between diet and neurologic disorders, consider these recommendations:

Shop in the produce aisle. As these studies show, people who ate the most nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes had the lowest risk for early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Cresswell says an overall healthy diet seems more important than focusing on any single superfood or nutrient.

Opt for whole foods. Cut back on red and processed meats and refined carbohydrates like white bread and sweets. These foods, major components of the Western diet, are associated with a higher risk for Parkinson’s disease. “An occasional hamburger or piece of cake is fine,” Dr. Cresswell says. “But it’s important to remember that everything your body uses to function comes from the food you eat. It’s not just that skipping healthy food could be detrimental—processed foods seem to cause problems.”

Limit alcohol intake. Consuming no more than one drink per day for women and two for men was associated with a lower risk for symptoms of pre–Parkinson’s disease, according to the Neurology study. “Modest amounts of alcohol may be okay, but more than that is not good for the brain or body,” Dr. Dorsey says.

Be wary of fad diets. Talk to your doctor before starting any special diet, such as gluten-free or ketogenic, advises Dr. Cresswell, and work with a dietitian if you decide to try one. “The only reason to go on a gluten-free diet is if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity,” she says. “Evidence is patchy for these diets, and they are restrictive.” For example, she notes, people on a gluten-free diet may not get much fiber, which could be a problem if you have constipation (common with Parkinson’s disease), and keto diets can be high in protein, which may interfere with absorption of medication.

Source: Brain & Life

UN Reveals 30% of the Entire Planet Supports Plant-Based Diet as a Climate Policy

With 1.2 million respondents in 50 countries covering 56% of the world population, the UN’s People’s Climate Vote is the largest ever survey of public opinion on climate change. The poll revealed that an overall average of 30 % of people in the surveyed 50 countries support the promotion of plant-based diet as a climate policy. The figure is as much as 42% in developing states and 33% in high-income countries.

The People’s Climate Vote was carried out by the UN along with the University of Oxford and various NGO’s, to educate people on the subject of climate change and the possible solutions thereof, as well as to survey the public around the world as to the actions they believe governments should take.

On the subject of plant-based diets, the report states, “Rearing livestock in a conventional way contributes to climate change mainly due to deforestation to expand pastures. Unless forest-friendly and regenerative and biodiversity conservation approaches are adopted in livestock and beef production, just like conventional agriculture it creates environmental and health impacts. Plant-based diets offer an alternative to provide nutritious food with lower methane emissions.”

The popularity of the concept of plant-based diet as a climate policy, compared to the overall average of 30% around the world, showed that 42% were in favour in small island developing states; 33% were in favour in high-income countries; 29% in least developed countries; and 29% in middle-income countries.

“The survey brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate. It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge.” Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.

Source: Vegonomist

Study: Plant-Based Diet Ramps Up Metabolism

A plant-based diet boosts “after-meal burn,” leads to weight loss, and improves cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight individuals, according to a new randomized control trial published in JAMA Network Open by researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The study randomly assigned participants—who were overweight and had no history of diabetes—to an intervention or control group in a 1:1 ratio. For 16 weeks, participants in the intervention group followed a low-fat, plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with no calorie limit. The control group made no diet changes. Neither group changed exercise or medication routines, unless directed by their personal doctors.

Researchers used indirect calorimetry to measure how many calories participants burned after a standardized meal at both the beginning and end of the study. The plant-based group increased after-meal calorie burn by 18.7%, on average, after 16 weeks. The control group’s after-meal burn did not change significantly.

“These findings are groundbreaking for the 160 million Americans struggling with overweight and obesity,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “Over the course of years and decades, burning more calories after every meal can make a significant difference in weight management.”

Within just 16 weeks, participants in the plant-based group lowered their body weight by 6.4 kg (about 14 pounds), on average, compared to an insignificant change in the control group. The plant-based group also saw significant drops in fat mass and visceral fat volume—the dangerous fat found around the internal organs.

The researchers also teamed up with Yale University researchers Kitt Petersen, MD, and Gerald Shulman, MD, to track intramyocellular lipid and hepatocellular lipid—the accumulating fat in muscle and liver cells—in a subset of participants using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Those in the plant-based group reduced the fat inside the liver and muscle cells by 34% and 10%, respectively, while the control group did not experience significant changes. Fat stored in these cells has been linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

“When fat builds up in liver and muscle cells, it interferes with insulin’s ability to move glucose out from the bloodstream and into the cells,” adds Dr. Kahleova. “After just 16 weeks on a low-fat, plant-based diet, study participants reduced the fat in their cells and lowered their chances for developing type 2 diabetes.”

The study also offered new insight into the link between fat within the cells and insulin resistance. The plant-based group decreased their fasting plasma insulin concentration by 21.6 pmol/L, decreased insulin resistance, and increased insulin sensitivity—all positive results—while the control group saw no significant changes.

The plant-based group also reduced total and LDL cholesterol by 19.3 mg/dL and 15.5 mg/dL, respectively, with no significant changes in the control group.

“Not only did the plant-based group lose weight, but they experienced cardiometabolic improvements that will reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems,” says Dr. Kahleova.

“I plan to stay on this diet for good. Not just for 16 weeks, but for life,” reports study participant Sam T., who lost 34 pounds and improved his metabolism during the 16-week study. Since the study has concluded, Sam has continued a plant-based diet, reached his goal weight, and began running half-marathons and marathons.

Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine