Plant-centred or low-fat diets for heart health?



Longstanding debate has focused on whether diets that are low in fat or high in plants are better for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the results of a new study, presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s NUTRITION 2021 digital conference, while both diets were linked with lower LDL – or bad cholesterol – levels, those that were higher in plants were more closely associated with a lower long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Since 1980, dietary guidelines in the United States and in Europe have recommended eating low amounts of saturated fat because of the high rates of heart disease in these regions,”​ said research team leader David Jacobs, PhD, from the University of Minnesota. “This is not necessarily wrong, but our study shows that plant-centered diets can also lower bad cholesterol and may be even better at addressing heart disease risk.”

The researchers defined ‘plant-centred’ diets as those that emphasise fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy, and fish. This diet also limits high-fat red and processed meats, salty snacks, sweets, and sugar-sweetened soft drinks. The low-fat diet is based on the Keys Score, a good formulation of the “low saturated fat” message, driven by saturated fat, but also including polyunsaturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

Yuni Choi, a postdoctoral fellow in Jacobs’ lab, explained that while the low-fat diet does offer some advantages, focusing on a single nutrient – in this case saturated fat – is an oversimplification.



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