Life longevity is largely contingent on the lifestyle decisions people make. A vast body of literature underscore the importance of eating a health diet. The trouble is, knowing which foods to avoid and which to embrace can be a hotly contested subject. Mounting evidence suggests a vegetarian diet can stave off the risk of cardiovascular disease – one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, eating mostly plant-based foods and fewer animal-based foods may be linked to better heart health and a lower risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular disease.
“While you don’t have to give up foods derived from animals completely, our study does suggest that eating a larger proportion of plant-based foods and a smaller proportion of animal-based foods may help reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other type of cardiovascular disease,” said lead researcher, Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
Researchers reviewed a database of food intake information from more than 10,000 middle-aged U.S. adults who were monitored from 1987 through 2016 and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.
They then categorised the participants’ eating patterns by the proportion of plant-based foods they ate versus animal-based foods.
People who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a:
- 16 per cent lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other conditions;
- 32 per cent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease and
- 25 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.
How many vegetables a day should you eat to stave off the risks?
One study challenges the common wisdom that five vegetables a day is the optimal amount.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the magic number is eight.
The study, spearheaded by Dagfinn Aune, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and Imperial College London, shows that 7.8 million deaths worldwide could be prevented each year if people ate more fruits and vegetables.
Aune said the more a person eats, the lower the overall risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and premature death.
“The results support recommendations to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables people eat,” said Aune.
The study shows that the risk of dying prematurely from all causes was reduced by almost a third, and the risk of cardiovascular disease by about a quarter in people who ate 800 grams of fruit and vegetables every day, compared with those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables.
“We see a gradual reduction in risk with increasing consumption, so a low or moderate intake is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all,” he said.
Which vegetables offer the greatest health benefits and why?
The meta-analysis found that apples and pears, citrus fruit, fruit juice, green leafy vegetables and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C were among the types of fruit and vegetables that were linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Canned fruits, however, were linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
“However, we need more studies on specific types of fruit and vegetables because relatively few of the studies in our analysis had looked at this issue,” said Aune.
As the study noted, fruits and vegetables contain fibre, vitamin C, antioxidants, potassium and flavonoids, all of which have been directly linked to good health. A high intake of fibre can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation in the body, improve blood vessel function and prevent people from becoming overweight and obese.
“Supplementing with antioxidants and vitamins does not have the same beneficial effects, so probably it’s the whole package of beneficial substances that you get from eating fruits and vegetables that acts synergistically,” said Aune.