- A vegan diet of plant-based whole foods, with no meat, eggs, or dairy, has been associated with health benefits like lower risk of heart disease.
- New evidence suggests that a mostly plant-based diet, with small amounts of animal products, can still help to reduce blood pressure and cut risk of cardiovascular illness.
- Researchers theorize the health benefits of veganism come from eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and the wealth of micronutrients contained in these plant foods.
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If you’re intrigued by the health benefits of veganism, but not willing to give up meat and cheese for life, there’s good news.
A mostly plant-based diet may be enough to improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, and lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study published July 24 in the Journal of Hypertension.
Researchers from the University of Warwick reviewed 41 previous studies on a variety of plant-based diets. They found that all the diets surveyed appeared to have health benefits for the participants, even if they still occasionally ate meat and dairy.
A diet rich in plant foods is good for your heart, evidence suggests
The studies included in this systemic review were on seven different styles of plant-based diet: the DASH diet, specifically designed lower blood pressure; a vegetarian diet; a vegan diet; the Nordic diet, rich in veggies and fatty fish; a high fiber diet full of whole grains and legumes; and a high fruits and vegetables diet.
Nearly all of the diets improved blood pressure significantly compared to a diet comprised of what participants in the control group typically ate.
The biggest improvements in blood pressure didn’t come from the vegan diet — they were linked to the DASH diet and lacto-ovo vegetarianism, both of which include eggs and dairy.
This suggests that the benefits of eating plant-based diet are not necessarily dependent on eliminating all animal products.
Instead, they are likely linked to eating more plant-based whole foods, which contain flavonoids and nitrates. These could potentially reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and benefit the gut microbiome, researchers theorize.
A plant-based diet is also likely to be lower in sodium, or salt, than most diets — high sodium is linked to health risks like heart disease.
Although how exactly a plant-rich diet lowers blood pressure isn’t clear, the benefits are promising because evidence suggest that strict vegan diets are harder to stick to over time. A mostly plant-based diet is likely to be more accessible to people who could benefit from including more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes in their diets.
“This is a significant finding as it highlights that complete eradication of animal products is not necessary to produce reductions and improvements in blood pressure,”Joshua Gibbs, lead author of the study and a student at the University of Warwick, said in a statement. “Essentially, any shift towards a plant-based diet is a good one.”
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