Eating a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure even if small amounts of meat and dairy are consumed too, according to new research from the University of Warwick.
The researchers say that any effort to increase plant-based foods in your diet and limit animal products is likely to benefit your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
For the study, the team conducted a systematic review of previous research from controlled clinical trials to compare seven plant-based diets, several of which included animal products in small amounts, to a standardized control diet and the impact that these had on individuals' blood pressure.
Plant-based diets are characterized by plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and a limited amount of most or all animal products.
Vegetarian and vegan diets with complete absence of animal products are already known to lower blood pressure compared to omnivorous diets. Their feasibility and sustainability are, however, limited.
Until now, it has not been known whether a complete absence of animal products is necessary in plant-based dietary patterns to achieve a significant beneficial effect on blood pressure.
About the study
The researchers reviewed 41 studies involving 8,416 participants, in which the effects of seven different plant-based diets (including DASH, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Vegan, Nordic, high fibre and high fruit and vegetables) on blood pressure were studied in controlled clinical trials.
An analysis of these studies showed that most of these diets lowered blood pressure. The DASH diet had the largest effect.
The team noted that a blood pressure reduction of the scale caused by a higher consumption of plant-based diets, even with limited animal products, would result in a 14% reduction in strokes, a 9% reduction in heart attacks and a 7% reduction in overall mortality.
The finding highlights that complete elimination of animal fods is not necessary to produce reductions and improvements in blood pressure.
What’s in the 7 plant-based diets studied?
Healthy Nordic diet - Higher content of plant foods, fish, egg, and vegetable fat, and lower content of meat products, dairy products, sweets, desserts, and alcoholic beverages
High-fruit and vegetable diet - Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. To further increase the polyphenolic load, some studies included regular dark chocolate content
High-fiber diet - Fiber is found in varying levels in all plant foods and is most prevalent in whole grains and legumes. For this reason, most high-fiber diets focus on increasing wholegrain and legume consumption
Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet - Defined as those that exclude the consumption of all meat, poultry, and fish but still include the consumption of dairy and eggs. The main components include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds
DASH diet - Encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products and limits the intake of sweets, saturated fat, and sodium
Mediterranean diet - The main components are daily consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, olive oil, weekly consumption of legumes, nuts, fish, dairy, and eggs, and limited intake of meat
Vegan diet - Consists of plant foods exclusively. No animal flesh or other animal-derived products (including dairy and eggs) are included. It is mostly low-fat and focuses on the consumption of whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds
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