WEDNESDAY, March 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A plant-based diet can benefit your heart, but only if you eat certain healthy types of food, researchers say.
They tracked the eating behavior and the development of heart disease among more than 2,000 adults in Greece over 10 years, starting in 2002.
Compared to those who ate more animal-based foods, men who ate more plant-based foods had a 25% lower risk of heart disease. Though the same trend was seen among women, it was less strong: Those who ate the fewest animal-based foods cut their heart disease risk by 11%.
On average, people whose diet was heavier on plant-based foods ate three animal-based foods a day. Others ate five animal-based foods a day, according to the study being presented Wednesday as part of an online meeting of the American College of Cardiology and World Congress of Cardiology.
"These findings highlight that even a small reduction in the daily consumption of animal-based products -- principally the less healthy foods, such as processed meat products -- accompanied by an increase in healthy plant-based foods may contribute to better cardiovascular health," said lead author Demosthenes Panagiotakos. He's a professor and vice rector at Harokopio University in Athens.
Panagiotakos and his colleagues then focused on people who ate more plant-based foods in order to determine whether their diets were healthy (high amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oils and tea or coffee) or unhealthy (high levels of juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes and sweets).
They found that people who ate more healthy plant-based foods -- but not those who ate more unhealthy plant-based foods -- had a significant reduction in heart disease risk compared to those whose diets included more animal-based foods.
"Based on these results, it seems that simply following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is not enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk," Panagiotakos said in a meeting news release.
"It is also important to focus on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to see a benefit in terms of reducing cardiovascular disease," he added.
Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on plant-based eating.
SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, March 18, 2020