By Robert Preidt
That's the key conclusion from a study of nearly 48,000 women and 26,000 men, average age 64. Researchers assessed their eating habits in the 12 years before and after they enrolled in the study. None had a history of heart disease or cancer.
During that time, the risk of death from all causes was 8 percent lower for participants who embraced a overall plant-based eating regimen and 10 percent lower for those who embraced the healthiest plant-based diets. For participants who adopted a plant-based diet high in fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes and sweets, the risk of death jumped 11 percent.
"Not all plant-based diets are equal, but boosting the intake of high-quality plant-based foods over time lowers the risk of death even among people who started off with poor-quality diets," said lead author Dr. Megu Baden.
Baden is a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
A 10-point increase on a healthy plant-based diet scale was linked to a 10 percent lower risk of death related to heart disease, while a 10-point increase on an unhealthy plant-based diet scale was associated with a 6 percent higher risk.
A 10-point increase could be achieved by replacing one serving a day of refined grains with whole grains, increasing intake of both fruits and vegetables by one serving a day, and eliminating one serving a day of sugary beverages.
The study was to be presented March 6 at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in Houston. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Previous studies have shown that eating a high-quality plant-based diet can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. This study was touted as the first to examine how healthy or unhealthy changes in diet may affect the risk of death.
"Over a period of time, consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, while decreasing your intake of refined grains, sweets and desserts, and animal foods such as animal fat meat, and miscellaneous animal-based foods, may lower your risk of death from heart disease and other causes," Baden said in an AHA news release.