The importance of eating plants is increasingly at the forefront of our minds as we take in the daily information that we are exposed to in our magazines, newspapers or on a scroll on the internet. Consequently, we are becoming more aware that there are health benefits to be had from focusing on plant-based foods over those originating from animals. But do you ever wonder which particular plant foods have the most impact on your well-being?
Results of a nationwide study from China were published in the Lancet in May of 2023 examining the effects of food choices on cardiovascular disease. As in most areas of the world, the burden of heart and blood vessel diseases is on the rise in China. The last several decades have seen significant transitions in the dietary intakes of Chinese citizens away from traditional food sources and towards more animal-sourced and processed foods. The goal of this study was to provide a comprehensive depiction of the challenges being faced across all of China’s geographical regions from cardiovascular diseases caused by dietary risk factors. (1)
This investigation employed data from three national surveys; the China National Nutrition Surveys, the China Chronic Disease and Risk Factor Surveillance and the China Hypertension Survey which together encompassed nutritional records from 2002 to 2018. To ensure the quality of the results, researchers with extensive experience in epidemiological dietary investigations received additional standardized training geared towards this specific analysis. Food consumption information from participants aged 20 years or older from across the country was gathered for this research. (1)
Results showed the following;
- Inadequate fruit, whole grain, vegetable and nut intakes were the leading dietary risk factors for ischemic heart disease (aka coronary heart disease – narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels supplying the heart), ischemic stroke (narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels supplying the brain) and hemorrhagic stroke (strokes caused by bleeding).
- Low intake of soybeans was also associated with increased mortality from ischemic heart disease.
- High intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to mortality from ischemic heart disease.
- High intake of red meat was a risk factor for both ischemic heart disease and ischemic stroke.
- In summary, more than two-thirds of cardiovascular deaths related to a poor diet were attributed to low intakes of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.
This recent science is by no means the only comprehensive information on this topic.
From early 2023 comes a review outlining the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality from a number of recent clinical studies including the Adventist Health Study 2, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition—Oxford (EPIC-Oxford) Study, the BROAD Study and the EVADE CAD Trial. (2)
- The Adventist Health Study 2 showed associations of plant-based diets with improvements in longevity and reductions in cardiovascular mortality.
- The EPIC-Oxford study found that vegetarianism is linked to lower rates of ischemic heart disease when compared to individuals eating a diet including meat.
- The BROAD study illuminated significant improvements in BMI (Body Mass Index), cholesterol levels and protection from the development of diabetes in those consuming a whole food plant-based diet.
- The EVADE-CAD Trial showed that the consumption of a vegan diet significantly reduces systemic inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease when compared to those eating the AHA diet. On the other hand, no improvements in blood sugar control, weight loss or lipid profile were noted from the vegan diet over the AHA diet.
Note: The AHA diet (American Heart Association Diet) recommends consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables, grain products including whole grains and incorporates fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, legumes, poultry and lean meats.
In addition, the Global Burden of Disease Study (3) identified the top causes of diet-related death and disability from all causes which were responsible for more than half of the deaths and two-thirds of the years lost to ill-health and disability.
The top three causes of diet-related death and disability were the consumption of…
Not enough whole grains
Not enough fruits…
…followed closely by the consumption of …
Not enough nuts and seeds
Not enough vegetables
Not enough omega-3 fatty acids
Not enough fiber
What does this mean for you? Simply put, unless you are already eating a whole food plant-based diet, your health will benefit from incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts into your daily meals. It is only through these food groups that you can consume an abundance of the biologically active compounds that can diminish cardiovascular disease risk through mechanisms such as antioxidant activity, reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress, benefits to the endothelium lining of blood vessels, increased fiber intake and improvements in lipid and lipoprotein levels.
But that’s not all. By filling your stomach with more plants, you will automatically be cutting down on animal-based foods that have been shown to cause damage to many body systems. You don’t have to stop eating all animal-sourced foods to see benefits. But the more you do, the more health improvements you will enjoy.
1 Fang, Y., Xia, J., Lian, Y., et al. The burden of cardiovascular disease attributable to dietary risk factors in the provinces of China, 2002-2018: a nationwide population-based study. Lancet Reg Health West Pac. 2023;37:100784. Doi:10.1016/j.lanwpc.2023.100784.
2 Salehin, S., Rasmussen, P., Mai, S., Mushtaq, M., Agarwal, M., Hasanm S.M., Salehinm S., Raja, M., Gilani, S., Khalife, W.I. Plant Based Diet and Its Effect on Cardiovascular Disease. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Feb 14;20(4):3337. Doi: 10.3390/ijerph20043337. PMID: 36834032; PMCID: PMC9963093.
3 Afshin, A., Sur, P.J., Fay, K.A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J.S., Mullany, E.C. et al. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Open AccessPublished: April 03, 2019 DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8.