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The health benefits of plant-based diets are varied and many, ranging from living longer to decreased risk of cancer and heart disease. But, just like their carnivorous and omnivorous counterparts, vegans need to make sure they’re primarily eating healthy foods and not consuming too many processed carbs and sugary foods. Doing so could negate the positive aspects of a plant-based diet, according to a recent study.
Researchers at Harokopio University of Athens, Greece reported that vegans who ate mostly unhealthful foods (juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets) did not have a significant reduced risk of heart disease compared to people who ate mostly animal-based products.
Only vegans who ate healthful foods (primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, oils, and tea or coffee) enjoyed better heart health compared to those who ate meat and dairy.
“Based on these results, it seems that simply following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is not enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk,” Demosthenes Panagiotakos, PhD, professor of biostatistics, research methods and epidemiology at Harokopio University of Athens, Greece and the study’s lead author, said in a release. “It is also important to focus on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to see a benefit in terms of reducing cardiovascular disease.”
For the study, researchers tracked the eating habits of more than 2,000 Greek adults over a 10-year period beginning in 2002 and asked them to complete a detailed survey about their diet and overall health at the beginning of the study, after five years and after 10.
At the end, researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and the development of heart disease. Men who ate fewer animal-based products were 25 percent less likely to have heart disease than those who ate meat and cheese. That number was 11 percent for women.
That sounds good, but again those benefits were only seen if those people focused on healthful foods. Additionally, women on a plant-based diet who ate unhealthful foods actually saw an increase in heart disease risk.
This study doesn’t necessarily contain anything groundbreaking, as we’ve known for ages that eating healthy foods – on any diet – is the way to go. That’s why donuts, juices, and sweetened beverages should only be savored on the rare cheat day. Don’t make them part of your everyday meal prep.