Cordelia Woodward AUTHOR: Cordelia Woodward RD, Freelance, BDA member

Last month saw the publication of a new report on a hot topic – Cardiometabolic Health & Plant-Based Dietary Patterns. It’s an in-depth scientific review from nine global experts and comes ahead of our eSymposium on the topic this month.

Why is it such a hot topic? What are the benefits of specific plant-based diets including the Nordic and Portfolio diet?

Here’s a quick overview of the report. The full 66-page report can be downloaded here. There’s also an eight-page summary document.

The importance of cardiometabolic health

There are several benefits of plant-based eating including environmental benefits. However, the report focuses specifically on the impact of such diets on cardiometabolic health. This is of great importance because cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the leading cause of death and is associated with a high burden of disease worldwide.

Diet and CVD risk

The report draws our attention to which behavioural factors influence CVD risk: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake. Unhealthy diets can be attributed to about 45.4% of premature deaths from CVD. Clearly, our understanding of which dietary patterns are most beneficial to preventing CVD is of significance.

Plant-based eating

Plant-based eating has gained in popularity in recent years. The term ‘plant-based eating’ does not necessarily mean all animal products are excluded but rather that plant-based foods are the core of the diet. Such foods include fruits, vegetables, soy, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.

Plant-based food patterns & CVD

There are many characteristics of plant-based diets that are considered to be beneficial for cardiometabolic health. This includes the high fibre content, low calorific density, lower saturated fat content, beneficial fatty acid composition (higher in unsaturated fats) and also the anti-inflammatory compounds.

The report goes through the main plant-rich diets that have been shown to benefit CVD:

  • Mediterranean

This diet focuses on eating lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes (including soya), nuts, olive oil and low to moderate consumption of fish. It also limits consumption of red and processed meat, cream and sugar-sweetened beverages. Such a diet has been demonstrated to reduce total CVD and CVD mortality by 10-30%.

  • Nordic

This is a traditional plant-based diet that includes consumption of local, seasonal and nutritious foods such as whole grains, berries, cabbages, legumes, rapeseed oil, fatty fish, shellfish and seaweed. The use of saturated fat is restricted. Significant reductions in several risk factors for CVD including raised total and LDL cholesterol levels have been demonstrated.

  • The Portfolio Diet

The Portfolio Diet refers to a plant-based diet which includes consuming cholesterol-lowering foods that have each had approved health claims for the reduction of cholesterol. The foods can be mixed and matched to account for personal preferences:

  • Consumption of 45g of nuts (about one & a half handful’s worth).
  • Consumption of 50g of protein from soy (e.g. from tofu, tempeh, soya beans or soya milk) or other legumes (such as beans, peas, chickpeas & lentils).
  • At least 20g of viscous, soluble fibre (such as from oats, barley, apples, okra, aubergine & strawberries).
  • 2g of plant sterols (can be achieved through fortified margarines or drinks)

Meta-analysis has shown that such a diet reduced LDL by ~17% and 10-year CHD risk by 13%.

  • Other plant-rich diets

Also discussed within the report are vegetarian or vegan diets & the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).

The report goes into further detail highlighting how plant-based eating can benefit individual cardiometabolic risk factors including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight, obesity & adiposity
  • Inflammation
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Hyperlipidaemia

Download the full report

Want to learn more? Join our Europe-wide eSymposium on 18 November, 2–5.30pm. Free and CPD accredited.