Eating more plant-based foods could do a world of good for our health (and the health of the planet)! Past studies suggest that following a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, eating plant-based does not always mean having to adopt a completely meat-free diet. According to a research paper by Hemler and Hu in Current Atherosclerosis Reports (now live on the Unilever CPD profile), it is in fact the quality of the plant-based diet that is the most important factor to consider as not all plant-source foods have beneficial heart health effects (2019, p. 1).
WHAT MAKES A DIET PLANT-BASED?
Generally speaking, plant-based diets are defined as diets that are focussed mainly on plants/plant sources of nutrition.
Plant-based diets consist of a diverse family of dietary patterns, defined in terms of low frequency of consumption of animal foods (Satija et al, 2018, p. 1). Plant-based diets are often divided into the following categories: lacto-vegetarian (dairy products but no animal foods), pescatarian (consumes fish in addition to eggs and dairy products, but no poultry and red meat), vegan (excluding all animal products) and flexitarian (including moderate amounts of animal-source foods).
Numerous studies have found plant-based diets, especially those rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, to be associated with a lower risk of heart health outcomes (Satija et al, 2018, p. 1). Findings from Hemler and Hu’s (2019) study support this, stating that people who ate more whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, coffee, and tea showed a much lower risk for cardiovascular disease, while those who ate more unhealthy plant-based foods, like sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains, and sweets, did not.
For most people however, the complete elimination of meat or animal products is oftentimes unrealistic. The good news is, studies show that adopting a completely vegetarian or vegan diet, is not necessary for improved cardiovascular health.
Healthy plant-based diets can be customised to fit individual needs and cultural preferences. A small reduction of animal-based products – particularly processed meats – can significantly help improve cardiovascular health (Hemler & Hu, 2019, p. 5). Findings from Hemler and Hu’s study highlight the importance of focussing on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to see a benefit in terms of reducing cardiovascular disease.
In conclusion, eating a wide spectrum of plant-based diets can be nutritionally adequate and confer cardiovascular benefits, as long as they are planned appropriately and include high-quality foods. Abundant evidence supports heart health benefits of individual plant-source foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, coffee, and tea. On the other hand, compelling evidence links some animal foods, such as red and processed meat, to higher cardiovascular disease risk (Hemler & Hu, 2019, p. 8). To earn three CPD points, read the full paper here.
Knorr’s new campaign, The Plate of the Nation, aims to help people eat better. The purpose of the campaign is to reinvent food for humanity in three ways: champion dietary diversity, more plant-based meals, and more sustainable ways to grow and produce food. For more information and ideas on how to add more plant-based meals in daily diets, visit the Knorr site here.
Hemler, E.C. and Hu, F.B., 2019. Plant-based Diets for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: All Plant Foods Are Not Created Equal. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 21(5), p. 18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11883-019-0779-5
Satija, A. and Hu, F.B., 2018. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, 28(7), pp. 437-441. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcm.2018.02.004