Plant-centred diets more effective than low-fat for heart disease

Plant-centred diets are better at reducing the long-term risk of heart disease than low-fat diets, according to a 30-year study.

A 30-year study following more than 4,700 people has shown that plant-centred diets are more effective at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease than low-fat ones.

Presented at a conference by the American Society of Nutrition, the study’s results revealed that, while both diets were linked with low LDL levels, or bad cholesterol, those more highly focused on plants were better associated with a lower long-term risk of heart disease.

“Since 1980, dietary guidelines in the United States and in Europe have recommended eating low amounts of saturated fat because of the high rates of heart disease in these regions,” said research team leader David Jacobs. “This is not necessarily wrong, but our study shows that plant-centered diets can also lower bad cholesterol and may be even better at addressing heart disease risk.”

The term “plant-centred diet” refers to one that emphasises fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, and fish. The research did not cover plant-based diets, which focus completely on plants and cut out all animal products. The plant-centred diet additionally limits high-fat red and processed meats, salty snacks, sweets, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

The low-fat diet is based on the Keys Score, which promotes the “low-saturated fat” message. While it is driven by saturated fat, it also includes polyunsaturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

According to Yuni Choi, a postdoctoral fellow in Jacobs’s lab, while low-fat diets do offer certain advantages, focusing on a single nutrient like saturated fat is an oversimplification. “Our findings show that it is important to view diet quality from a holistic perspective,” he said.

“Targeting just single nutrients such as total or saturated fat doesn’t take into account the fats that are also found in healthy plant-based foods such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts and dark chocolate — foods that also have cardioprotective properties and complex nutrient profiles.”

Based on the study, Choi suggested people incorporate more nutritionally rich plant foods into their diets. “One way to do this is to fill 70% of your grocery bag with foods that include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.”

Read our tips for heart patients on a vegan diet.

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