Not All Plant-Based Foods Are Heart-Healthy

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Diets rich in plant foods are recommended for lowering heart disease risk-but that could backfire if you pick the wrong kinds of plant foods.

According to results of a study of over 200,000 U.S. health professionals, those who ate plenty of healthy plant foods, such as vegetables, beans, and whole grains, had a decreased risk of heart disease. That was not true of people who loaded up on foods that were technically plant-based, but not as healthful.

Diets heavy in refined pasta and bread, sweets, fruit juices, and sugar-sweetened beverages appeared just as bad for people’s heart health as diets high in red meat.

The study tracked participants’ diet habits starting in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2013, over 8,600 had experienced a heart attack or died of heart disease. But the risk was one-quarter lower among people who ate the most plant foods that were healthy, versus those who ate the fewest, even with body weight and exercise habits taken into account.

The reverse pattern was seen among people who ate a lot of refined grains and other dubious plant foods. Those with intakes in the top 10 percent were almost one-third more likely to develop heart disease, versus the bottom 10 percent. The findings were reported in 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

It’s clear that simply cutting out animal products like red and processed meats is not enough. Replacing them with heart-healthy choices like legumes, vegetables, and nuts is vital.