Incorporating more fresh whole foods into one’s diet is something medical professionals often promote. Eating natural foods rather than highly processed foods can have a plethora of health benefits.
Two new observational studies looked at the benefits of plant-centered diets. Both studies followed participants for more than a decade to track health and food choice trends.
USDA nutrition recommendations
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been setting forth dietary guidelines for more than 100 years. While the guidelines have changed over time, the USDA has long focused on eating foods that provide the nutrients needed to maintain good health.
The USDA presently recommends an individual’s diet consist of the following:
Based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet, the USDA suggests people eat 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 ounces (oz) of grains, 5.5 oz of protein foods, and 3 cups of dairy.
It also suggests that people vary their protein sources and explore eating meatless meals every so often.
Young adulthood diet study
The first new study, called “Plant-centered diet and risk of incident cardiovascular disease during young to middle adulthood,” appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The researchers in this study tracked almost 5,000 young adults who were aged 18–30 years when the study began. The study lasted for 32 years.
None of the participants had heart problems when the study started. At checkups over the years, doctors evaluated the participants’ health, asked about the foods they ate, and assigned them a diet quality score.
By the end of the study, nearly 300 people developed cardiovascular disease. Moreover, after adjusting for various factor, including race, sex, and educational attainment, the researchers also found that people with the most plant-based diets and a higher diet quality score were 52% less likely to develop heart issues than those following the least plant-based diets.
“A nutritionally rich plant-centered diet is beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centered diet is not necessarily vegetarian,” says Dr. Yuni Choi, one of the authors of the young adult study.
Dr. Choi is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.
“People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed. We think that individuals can include animal products in moderation from time to time, such as non-fried poultry, non-fried fish, eggs, and low fat dairy,” Dr. Choi says.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, a nutritionist with a master’s degree in health management and the founder of KAK Consulting, spoke with Medical News Today about the study.
“The data presented in this study is consistent with previous studies on plant-based diets and longevity and metabolic health,” said Kirkpatrick.
“I’m not surprised at the findings,” she said, “and perhaps the takeaway here is it’s never too late or too early to start a plant-based diet.”