BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains slashes the risk of a premature death, a new study explains. Researchers in Ireland say people with the highest intake of these foods have lower rates of serious diseases and even hip fractures.
Overall mortality rates fall by 16 percent among those following a plant-based diet. The study is based on a review of more than 126,000 British adults tracked for more than a decade. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer dropped by eight and seven percent, respectively. Healthy, plant-based diets also reduced strokes and heart attacks by 16 and 14 percent, respectively.
“Greater adherence to a healthful plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of mortality, cancer and particularly cardiovascular disease,” writes corresponding author Dr. Tilman Kuhn of Queen’s University Belfast and the team in the journal JAMA Network Open.
“The findings of suggest a healthful plant-based diet that is low in animal foods, sugary drinks, snacks and desserts, refined grains, potatoes and fruit juices was associated with a lower risk of mortality and major chronic diseases among adults in the UK.”
The team analyzed data from 126,394 older participants in the UK Biobank, a database which contains in-depth information on their genes and health.
“Plant-based diets have gained popularity for both environmental and health reasons,” Dr. Kuhn says. “But a comprehensive assessment of their quality in relation to risk of mortality and major chronic diseases is lacking.”
Individuals were recruited between 2006 and 2010, with researchers following them for between 10.6 and 12.2 years using records until 2021. Using 24-hour dietary assessments, the team was able to identify each person’s adherence to plant-based diets or diet containing more junk food.
“The findings of this cohort study of middle-aged UK adults suggest that a diet characterized by high-quality plant-based foods and lower intakes of animal products may be beneficial for health, irrespective of established chronic disease risk factors and genetic predisposition,” Dr. Kuhn concludes.
“Our results support a shift toward food intake that emphasizes healthy plant foods to improve health and provide data to support a healthful plant based diet for cardiovascular disease prevention irrespective of genetic disease risk. However, future studies among more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations are needed to assess the risk of major chronic disease in relation to plant based diets.”
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.