Original paper

An update of the evidence relating to plant-based diets and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and overweight

  • A review of the current evidence indicates that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by around 20-25%.
  • Plant-based diets can also help with weight management; they have a low energy density and are high in fibre. Fibre can help with feelings of fullness and thus improve satiety.
  • A move towards including more plants in the diet appears to be the most important factor for these health gains rather than trying to adhere to a totally vegetarian or even vegan diet.

Harland and Garton searched the published literature from January 2015 to August 2016 in order to understand if plant-based diets have an impact on the incidence of or risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity.  A plant-based diet is one in which there is an emphasis on plant foods rather than an exclusion of all animal products. This can include vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean and combination diets. Recent research findings from meta-analyses, European cohort studies and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were studied in the review.

They discovered that plant based diets are associated with a 20-25% lower risk of developing CVD or T2D. Risk factors for developing these metabolic diseases such as total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and blood pressure were lower in those on a plant based diet.

Better overall weight management was achieved with a plant based diet compared to a calorie controlled diet and a higher intake of plant-based foods is associated with a lower BMI and a smaller waist circumference.

Portfolio or combination diets are plant-based diets that further focus on specific plant foods or plant-based ingredients that have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol such as soya, nuts, soluble fibre (such as oats and psyllium) and foods with added plant stanols and stenols, Such type of diets also lower high blood pressure such as the DASH eating plan. The DASH diet is plant-based with an emphasis on vegetables, fruit, whole grain cereals, legumes, seeds and nuts. It includes low fat dairy products and lean proteins such as poultry and fish. It is low in fat, red meat and sugar-containing food and drink. Combination diets can contribute to a reduction in the risk factors for CVD and diabetes.

When compared with “Western” diets plant-based diets have higher unsaturated fats and fibre and lower saturated fats and energy density. Plant-based diets are also high in antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients. It may be these qualities that are responsible for the health benefits found with plant based foods or it could be that eating more plants in the diet is of benefit in its own right. People with plant-based eating patterns tend to have healthier blood lipid-profiles, better glucose management, reduced blood pressure and lower biomarkers of inflammation in their body. As well as this plant-based diets are more sustainable for our environment.