Plant-Based Diets May Protect Against Mortality

Long-term consumption of a high-quality, plant-based diet is associated with decreased mortality overall and due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to study findings presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health 2019 Scientific Sessions.1

The findings add to the body of evidence supporting the health benefits of plant-based diets, including reduced risks of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

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“Over a period of time, consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, while decreasing your intake of refined grains, sweets and desserts, and animal foods such as animal fat meat, and miscellaneous animal-based foods, may lower your risk of death from heart disease and other causes,” said lead author Megu Y. Baden, MD, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow in the department of nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, in a press release.2

Dr Baden and colleagues arrived at their conclusion after analyzing data from the Nurses’ Health Study (n = 47,983) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (n = 25,737). Participants had no history of CVD or cancer at baseline in 1998 and a mean age of 63 years.

For total mortality, pooled hazard ratios among patients with the greatest increase in plant-based diet indices over 12 years were 0.92 for an overall plant-based diet index (PDI), 0.90 for a healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI), and 1.11 for an unhealthful plant-based diet index (uPDI) for diets primarily consisting of processed carbohydrates and fats.

The researchers noted that diet quality influenced the mortality benefits of plant-based diets. Over the study period, a 10-point increase in hPDI was found to be associated with a 10% lower risk of CVD mortality, whereas a 10-point increase in uPDI was found to be associated with a 6% higher risk of CVD mortality.

“Not all plant-based diets are equal, but boosting the intake of high-quality plant-based foods over time lowers the risk of death even among people who started off with poor-quality diets,” Dr Baden said in a press release.2

Healthful plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts were found to offer more health benefits than lower-quality plant-based foods, like fruit juices, sweets, refined grains, and potatoes, the researchers noted.

No evidence was observed for changes in plant-based diet indices and subsequent cancer mortality risk, the researchers wrote.

—Christina Vogt



  1. Baden MY, Liu G, Satija A, et al. Association of changes in plant-based diet indices with total and cause-specific mortality. Paper presented at: American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health; March 5-8, 2019; Houston, TX.
  2. Adding high-quality plant-based foods to diet decreases risk of deaths from heart disease and other causes [press release]. Houston, TX. American Heart Association. March 6, 2019. Accessed on March 6, 2019