As we count down to the sixth annual Meat Free Week (24-30 September 2018), new research published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found whole, plant-based foods where nutrients are delivered in their natural form seem to be healthiest.
According to lead author Andrew Freeman "A heart-healthy diet and, I would argue, a healthy diet overall really, is a predominantly plant-based, whole food, minimally-processed, no added salt, no added sugar type of a diet.”
Researchers looked at the ‘cardiovascular health benefits based on evidence of controversial foods’, including dairy, fermented foods, legumes and mushrooms. As well as added sugars, tea, coffee, energy drinks, alcohol omega-3 and vitamin B12.
So, when it comes to enjoying plant-based foods this Meat Free Week, what does this new research tell us?
Inexpensive, convenient and a rich source of protein, the study found pulses have a lot going for them.
Lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and other pulses have a range of heart-healthy benefits, including successfully reducing coronary heart disease and improving blood glucose, LDL-C, systolic blood pressure and weight.
While there wasn't clear, high-quality evidence directly linking mushrooms to improved cardiovascular health, the research found mushrooms do our bodies good in other ways including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
One study also found fungi to be a satisfying alternative to red meat, with evidence indicating people who swapped red meat for fungi stayed satisfied after their meals.
One of the latest food fads, fermentation is becoming ever popular.
While the research found insufficient evidence to routinely recommend fermented foods and link them to heart health, there was evidence that these foods are still good for you.
Some studies suggested benefits for cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as links to improved gut microbiome and other health benefits.
Dairy products are a good source of vitamins, minerals and protein — but they also can contain high levels of saturated fat and salt, which can contribute to heart disease risk.
So, when it comes to this particular research study and links to heart health, the jury is still out.
Achieving a healthy intake of dairy may be possible if you make good choices within the Australian dietary guidelines of two and a half serves a day. Which includes a focus on lower-fat types of dairy products.
The overall verdict?
“When you look all the data in sum, a particularly plant-based diet with minimal processing is really where the health is," Dr Freeman said.
Everyone is invited to take the Meat Free Week challenge and discover how easy it is to make little changes that can create a big difference.
Sign up for the challenge today and be sure to add lots of lovely legumes to your shopping list!