It is currently known that plant-based diets, or essentially vegetable-based dietsThey are the best option in terms of health. In fact, and although it is usually said that animal protein is the best quality in terms of absorption, various studies increasingly advocate incorporating more vegetable protein to the diet in exchange for animal protein, which in turn would reduce meat consumption in exchange for vegetables.
On the other hand, there is currently a very common confusion around plant-based diets, as if mere eating more fruits and vegetables, among other foods, it was a protective factor by itself independently of the rest of the diet. But things are not so easy, as recalled by new work presented at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session, alongside the World Congress of Cardiology: to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet unhealthy foods should be avoided, since otherwise, the health effects of this type of diet are nil.
Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular, in their different varieties. However, the health benefits of these diets not only depend on their plant wealth, but of the specific foods consumed: if it is based on too many processed or ultra-processed, such as pastries, processed grains or juices, the health benefits will be non-existent.
This is suggested by the results of the study led by Demosthenes Panagiotakos, professor of biostatistics, research methods and epidemiology at the Harokopio University in Athens (Greece). According to Panagiotakos, simplistic suggestion of consuming a plant-based diet, or even a vegetarian diet, would not be enough to reduce cardiovascular risk. It is of utmost importance to focus on specific groups of healthy foods, and not to take any processed or ultra-processed foods.
A Greek study
To reach such a conclusion, Panagiotakos and his colleagues analyzed the eating behavior and the potential development of cardiovascular disease in more than 2,000 Greek adults from 2002 to 2012. Participants were asked to complete a detailed survey of how often they consumed various foods at the start of the research, after five years. , and finally ten years after starting the study.
At the end of the study, the researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease using a dietary index that divided the participants into three groups, according to the number of foods of animal origin that they consumed per day (including both meat and derivatives, eggs or dairy).
According to their results, men who ate less food of animal origin they had up to 25% less risk of developing cardiovascular diseases compared to men who ate more animal-based foods. A similar relationship was observed in women, but in their case the risk was reduced by only 11% among those who ate less food of animal origin compared to those who consumed more.
In general, those who consumed the least food of animal origin took up to three animal foods each day, while those who consumed the most food of animal origin reached five daily. The differences were therefore small, but a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk was still found, especially if the emphasis was on eating less healthy foods such as processed meats.
The quality of the diet
On the other hand, researchers also focused on the quality of the diet, and divided the participants who followed a more plant-based diet (those who only ate three foods of animal origin, at most, each day), and classified them according to how healthy their diet was: those who consumed more fruits, vegetables , whole grains, legumes, nuts, oils, tea or coffee were classified as healthier, compared to those that incorporated processed or ultra-processed products in greater quantity, such as juices, sugary drinks, processed grains or pastries, which were classified as less healthy .
In this case, only participants who followed a healthy plant-based diet obtained a significant reduction in their cardiovascular risk, compared to those who ate more animal products. Those who based their diet on processed and ultra-processed did not obtain benefits.
Likewise, they were also observed Differences between men and women in this case. In general, men ate three times a day, while women ate four or five times a day on average. Additionally, women showed a more drastic increase in cardiovascular risk if they ate an unhealthy plant-based diet; and, for their part, it was precisely women who obtained the greatest benefits from consuming a healthy plant-based diet.
Finally, it should be noted that the study is not without limitations, since it was based on participant surveys three times, without conducting a clinical trial as such. Still, the researchers suggest that in the future nutritional suggestions should be clearer and more specific, both in type of food to consume and in its portions.