31 Aug Eating your greens for a healthy heart
Two recent publications in the Journal of the American Heart Association have together shown the benefits on heart health through diets rich in plants, both for young adults and older woman. The studies followed participants for 15 and 30 years, providing robust insights to the intersection between nutrition and cardiovascular health.
The first study enrolled just under 5,000 participants between 18-30 years of age. Participants’ food consumption was tracked, with examiners ranking foods based on their cardiovascular health risk to allow participants’ diets to be scored. In a 32-year follow-up, the individuals with diet qualities in the top 20% of participants had a 52% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It was also found that participants who improved their diets later in the study saw significant reductions in the likelihood of contracting heart disease.
The second study included 123,330 postmenopausal women of the Women’s Health Initiative in the US whose ages ranged between 50 and 79, none of whom had cardiovascular disease at enrolment. The study analyzed the women’s adherence to a Portfolio Diet over a 15-year period and any later contraction of heart disease. Not recommended as an exclusive diet, the Portfolio Diet rather offers recommendations of healthy foods. Findings suggested that those women with the closest alignment to the Portfolio Diet 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.
Both studies were observational in design, therefore they cannot determine a cause and effect relationship. Residual confounding factors cannot be ruled out and results may not be generalisable across other population groups, such as for men (specifically for the postmenopausal woman study) or across ages, cultures or ethnicities as both studies were carried out in the US.
These studies provide positive insights into the health benefits of diets rich in plant-based foods. This is not to say a plant only diet is recommended, as neither study considered restrictive diets, but rather food consumption that saw high levels of plant-based material saw the most benefit to human health . Such considerations on nutrition and health are significant to the conversation and dialogue around sustainable food systems. If sustainable human nutrition and health are not achieved in a population, other aspects of sustainability become less important.
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