Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and is responsible for one in four deaths. Coronary heart disease (CHD) in the most common type of heart disease and is estimated to kill 370,000 people every year. The ideal diet to avoid heart disease is still up for debate, however there have been many indications that plant based diets may reduce CHD risk. The definition of a healthy plant based diet varies across studies. [1]

Findings from a recent study conducted by researchers from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined the plant food consumption of three large cohort studies to determine the association of healthier plant foods with coronary heart disease (CHD). The article was published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.  The researchers did not evaluate data for exclusive vegetarian based diets, but rather categorized plant and animal foods on a “healthy” and “unhealthy” scale and serving amount.

The data assessed were from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II; and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Food intake, based on food frequency questionnaires (FFQ) was analyzed in association with coronary health disease outcomes.

In this study, plant foods considered ‘healthy’ included whole grains, nuts and peanut butter, certain fruits such as apples, raisins, blueberries and plums, and vegetables such as brussels sprouts, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, chard, kale and lettuce. The ‘less healthy’ plant based foods included juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar sweetened beverages, and sweets. All foods were ranked for statistical evaluation.

This study found that a higher intake of healthier plant based foods was associated with a lower risk for CHD as compared to less healthy plant based foods. This article indicates the importance to emphasize specific types of foods to prevent heart disease such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • Recommending plant based diets to patients at risk for CHD may improve health outcomes
  • Plant based diets should emphasize whole grains, nuts, fruits, and leafy greens for improving heart disease

Link to abstract


[1] Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Published August 24, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2017.

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