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Study finds 10% reduced stroke risk from eating healthy plant-based diet

By Kiersten Willis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Troy Warren #foodie-all


More evidence shows the benefits of eating a diet high in plant-based foods.

A study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that eating a healthy, plant-based diet may reduce the risk of having a stroke by up to 10%.

Such diets are defined as ones including lots of vegetables, whole grains and beans, and less consumption of foods such as refined grains or those with added sugars, both of which are considered less healthy.

“Many studies already show that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of all kinds of diseases, from heart disease to diabetes,” study author Dr. Megu Baden, Ph.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said in a statement. “We wanted to find out if there is an association between this kind of healthy diet and stroke risk.”

This study also particularly focused on ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 87% of strokes are ischemic, and strokes at large affect over 795,000 people in the United States annually.

The study’s findings were published online earlier this month in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers evaluated the health data of more than 200,000 men and women in three long-term studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II, and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. None of the participants — the majority of whom were health professionals and predominantly white — had cardiovascular disease or cancer when they began participating. For more than 25 years, the participants were followed and they filled out diet surveys every two to four years.

Scores were given to participants based on the healthfulness of the plant-based foods they consumed.

For example, refined grains and corn and potatoes, which are vegetables with high glycemic indexes, are considered less healthy plant-based foods than healthy plant-based foods like leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, beans and vegetable oils. People who consumed a serving or less of meat or fish each month were considered vegetarians.

Results showed that consuming a healthy plant-based diet was tied with a modest decrease in ischemic stroke. No link was discovered between a healthy plant-based diet and a decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by a ruptured blood vessel that leaks into the surrounding brain. The American Stroke Association reported that these kinds of strokes make up around 13% of stroke cases.

A separate analysis showed there was also no link between consuming a vegetarian diet and reduced stroke risk.

“Many individuals have been increasing the amount of plant-based components in their diet,” Kathryn Rexrode, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-author of the paper said in a statement. “These results show that higher intake of healthy plant-based foods may help reduce long-term stroke risk, and that it is still important to pay attention to diet quality of plant-based diets.”

Researchers acknowledged the participants’ occupation and race meant that the findings did not apply to the general population, which was a limitation of the study.