Eating more nutritious, plant-based foods keeps your heart healthy at any age, according to the results of two new studies.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, analyses different measures of healthy plant food consumption.
In it, scientists found that both young adults and postmenopausal women had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease when they ate a more plant-based diet.
One study evaluated whether long-term consumption of a plant-centred diet starting in young adulthood is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in midlife.
Dr. Yuni Choi, lead author of that study and a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, and colleagues examined diet and the occurrence of heart disease in over 4,940 adults enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.
Participants were 18- to 30-years-old at the time of enrolment (1985-1986) in this study and were free of cardiovascular disease at that time.
They found that 289 of the participants developed some form of cardiovascular disease, but that people who scored in the top 20 per cent on a specially devised long-term diet quality score that rewarded eating more plant-based foods, were 52 per cent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, after controlling for other factors.
As there were few out-and-out vegetarians among participants, Choi said this showed even increasing your vegetable, grain, and fruit intake could have health benefits.
"A nutritionally rich, plant-centred diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centred 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."
Another study evaluated whether or not diets that included a dietary portfolio of plant-based foods with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved health claims were associated with fewer cardiovascular disease events in a large group of postmenopausal women.
This diet includes nuts, plant protein from soy, beans, or tofu, viscous soluble fibre from oats, barley, okra, eggplant, oranges, apples, and berries, plant sterols from enriched foods, and monounsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil and avocados.
The research found that those who follow the diet were 11 per cent less likely to develop any type of cardiovascular disease, 14 per cent less likely to develop coronary heart disease, and 17 per cent less likely to develop heart failure.