A vegan diet of plant-based whole foods, with no meat, eggs, or dairy, has been associated with health benefits like lower risk of heart disease.
New evidence suggests that a mostly plant-based diet, with small amounts of animal products, can still help to reduce blood pressure and cut risk of cardiovascular illness.
Researchers theorize the health benefits of veganism come from eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and the wealth of micronutrients contained in these plant foods.
If you’re intrigued by the health benefits of veganism, but not willing to give up meat and cheese for life, there’s good news.
A mostly plant-based diet may be enough to improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, and lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study published July 24 in the Journal of Hypertension.
Researchers from the University of Warwick reviewed 41 previous studies on a variety of plant-based diets. They found that all the diets surveyed appeared to have health benefits for the participants, even if they still occasionally ate meat and dairy.
A diet rich in plant foods is good for your heart, evidence suggests
The studies included in this systemic review were on seven different styles of plant-based diet: the DASH diet, specifically designed lower blood pressure; a vegetarian diet; a vegan diet; the Nordic diet, rich in veggies and fatty fish; a high fiber diet full of whole grains and legumes; and a high fruits and vegetables diet.
Nearly all of the diets improved blood pressure significantly compared to a diet comprised of what participants in the control group typically ate.
The biggest improvements in blood pressure didn’t come from the vegan diet — they were linked to the DASH diet and lacto-ovo vegetarianism, both of which include eggs and dairy.
This suggests that the benefits of eating plant-based diet are not necessarily dependent on eliminating all animal products.
Instead, they are likely linked to eating more plant-based whole foods, which contain flavonoids and nitrates. These could potentially reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and benefit the gut microbiome, researchers theorize.
A plant-based diet is also likely to be lower in sodium, or salt, than most diets — high sodium is linked to health risks like heart disease.
Although how exactly a plant-rich diet lowers blood pressure isn’t clear, the benefits are promising because evidence suggest that strict vegan diets are harder to stick to over time. A mostly plant-based diet is likely to be more accessible to people who could benefit from including more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes in their diets.
“This is a significant finding as it highlights that complete eradication of animal products is not necessary to produce reductions and improvements in blood pressure,”Joshua Gibbs, lead author of the study and a student at the University of Warwick, said in a statement. “Essentially, any shift towards a plant-based diet is a good one.”