Eating a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart disease—but not all vegetarian or vegan foods are beneficial for health, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Researchers followed 200,000 adults over two decades and found that those who adhered to a plant-based diet rich in healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, had a substantially lower risk of heart disease than people whose diet typically included less healthy foods like refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The study also found that eliminating meat doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthier diet if what’s left are unhealthy foods such as potatoes, fruit juices, or sweets. In fact, people who followed a healthful plant-based diet, even if it included some animal foods, were less likely to die during the study period than those who followed an unhealthful plant-based diet that included a lot of processed foods.
“The study is encouraging in the sense that you don’t have to completely eliminate animal foods from your diet in order to get a heart benefit,” said lead author Ambika Satija, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Chan School, in a July 17, 2017 Popular Sciencearticle.