For each gradual increase in these scores, the risk of heart disease decreased by 19% on average. The risk of stroke, meanwhile, fell by 29%.
That was with factors like smoking, body weight, and income and education levels taken into account.
In what may be good news for burger lovers, “plant-based” doesn’t necessarily mean going vegetarian or vegan.
Try to fill 70 to 80 percent of your plate with vegetables, beans, whole grains and more, said lead researcher David Jacobs, professor of public health at the University of Minnesota.
It’s important to eat these foods “close to how they’re grown,” Jacobs said, rather than buying heavily processed versions. Variety is also essential.
“You want to have a nice, colorful plate,” Jacobs said.
Dr Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist not involved in the study, agreed that a “mostly plant-based” diet is the way forward for heart health.
“Animal products aren’t meant to be a part of every meal,” said Freeman, who heads cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Instead, it encourages patients to consume a wide range of plant foods, in their “natural form”.
“Eat avocado rather than avocado oil,” Freeman said.
He warned that the new study doesn’t mean saturated fat doesn’t make sense. And if people focus on building a plant-based diet, Freeman said, they’re likely to be consuming fairly low amounts of fat.
Why are plant-rich diets so good for the heart? It’s not a single magic ingredient, the researchers said.
Such diets are usually high in fiber, unsaturated fat, and vitamins and minerals, but the explanation may go beyond these nutrients, according to Jacobs.
Unlike animals, he pointed out, plants have a range of self-generated chemicals that protect them from the environment. And these so-called bioactive compounds can benefit humans who eat them.
Choi said researchers are also interested in studying how different diets affect the gut microbiome – the vast collection of bacteria and other microbes that inhabit the gut and perform many vital functions.
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