Could Plant Based Diets Lower Heart Disease Risk?

In two separate studies analyzing different measures of healthy plant food consumption, researchers found that both young adults and postmenopausal women had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease when they ate more healthy plant foods.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. Suboptimal diet is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality. There is a growing interest in the cardiovascular health benefits of diets that focus on consuming only plant foods, excluding animal products.

One of the studies, titled “A Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease during Young to Middle Adulthood,” evaluated whether long-term consumption of a plant-centered diet and a shift toward a plant-centered diet starting in young adulthood are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in midlife,  found that long-term consumption of plant-centered, high quality diet  that also incorporates subsets of animal products was associated with a 52% lower risk of incident CVD. Furthermore, an increase in plant‐centered diet quality over 13 years was associated with a 61% lower risk of incident CVD in the subsequent 12 years.

Another study, “Relationship between a plant-based dietary portfolio and risk of cardiovascular disease: Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative Prospective Cohort Study”, researchers found that compared to women who followed the portfolio diet less frequently, those with the closest alignment were 11% less likely to develop any type of cardiovascular disease, 14% less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 17% less likely to develop heart failure.

The portfolio diet includes nuts, plant protein from soy, beans or tofu; viscous soluble fiber from oats, barley, eggplant, oranges, apples and berries; plant sterols from enriched foods and monounsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil and avocados; along with consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.

The results present an important opportunity for people to incorporate more cholesterol lowering plant foods into their diets. The portfolio diet yields heart-health benefits.  The researchers believe the results highlight possible opportunities to lower heart disease by encouraging people to consume more foods from this diet.

Lead author of the study Andrea J. Glenn, said that they found a dose response in their study, meaning that you can start small, adding one component of the portfolio diet at a time, and gain more heart-health benefits as you add more components. 


American Heart Association. “Eating more plant foods may lower heart disease risk in young adults, older women.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2021.

Andrea J. Glenn, et al. Relationship Between a Plant‐Based Dietary Portfolio and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Findings From the Women’s Health Initiative Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2021.

Yuni Choi, et al. Plant‐Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease During Young to Middle Adulthood. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2021.