The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), studied more than 100,000 post-menopausal women for nearly 20 years.
The women in the study who ate more protein from plant-based sources had an associated lower risk of deaths related to heart disease and dementia and a lower risk of all-cause mortality, or death from all causes, in comparison to women who ate more red meat, dairy and eggs.
Why a plant-based diet could impact health factors like dementia and heart disease is the subject of two working theories in medical and nutritional science literature, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OB-GYN.
“One of them has to do with inflammatory metabolites, so these are by-products of animal protein that can then affect the heart and the brain and our blood vessels,” said Ashton, who also has a master’s degree in human nutrition. “Another [theory] has to do with the gut microbiome, that good bacteria, and obviously what we eat is related to that.
Ashton said on “Good Morning America” Thursday that she has followed a plant-based diet for the past three weeks and has seen her bad cholesterol level, or LDL, and her body fat decrease.
My weight stayed the same and I lost one point off that dangerous internal visceral fat, so even someone doing this just one or two days a week could potentially have some health benefits,” she said. “My advice is dip your toe in the water.”
“It doesn’t have to be all or none,” she said. “You could start with just one day of plant-based eating then maybe that will lead to two but, listen, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a way of eating that consists mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits.