Eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based oils, and nuts, beans and legumes has been shown to reduce the risk of many diseases. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, Crohn’s disease, colon cancer and even a rare, chronic foot and leg ulcer disease. It also helps with weight loss and keeping your gut microbiome healthy and happy.
Now, you can add another to the long list of health benefits that come from eating a healthy plant-based diet…
Plant-based diet and stroke risk
A Harvard study has found that people who eat a diet high in healthy plant-based foods may reduce their stroke risk by up to 10 percent compared with people who eat a lower-quality diet.
“Our findings have important public health implications, suggesting that future nutrition policies to lower stroke risk should take the quality of food into consideration,” says first author Megu Baden, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.
The study analyzed health data from 209,508 people who did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of their participation. They were followed for more than 25 years and filled out diet questionnaires every two to four years.
The participants were then scored on diet quality based on how healthy the plant-based foods they ate were. Those who ate one serving or less of meat or fish every month were classified as vegetarians.
In addition to lowering overall stroke risk by 10 percent, a healthy plant-based diet was associated with a modest reduction in risk of ischemic stroke, the most common stroke type, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. There was no connection between this type of diet and reduced risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.
When looking at the small number of participants labeled vegetarians, without examining their diet in detail, researchers didn’t find a link between that type of diet and lower stroke risk. The researchers said this result could be because those participants had a large number of low-quality plant foods in their diet.
“Many individuals have been increasing the number of plant-based components in their diet,” says study co-author Kathryn Rexrode, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “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.”
Make sure your plant-based diet is healthy
As the study notes, you can’t just eat bread, french fries (a primary source of the most unhealthy fats) and candy bars and drink soda and call it a “plant-based” diet. You need to choose plant-based foods that are rich in fiber and nutrients and low in starch and additives like sugar, salt and preservatives.
If you really want to super-charge your diet with healthy nutrients, try adding these four plant-based foods…
Kale — All leafy greens are good for you, but kale packs an extra wallop of nutrition. One cup of raw kale has more than seven times the daily requirement for vitamin K, roughly three times the daily requirement for vitamin A, and more than double the daily required amount of vitamin C.
Kale also contains antioxidants such as lutein and beta carotene, both of which can help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of diseases caused by oxidative stress. And it’s loaded with fiber, which contributes to good gastrointestinal health.
The one possible downside to kale’s many benefits is that they’re best obtained when kale is eaten raw. Cooking kale can lower its nutrient profile.
Beets — If you tend toward high blood pressure, then beets are your vegetable. In addition to folate and potassium, beets contain a good helping of heart-healthy nitrates, which help keep blood pressure in check. In fact, one study showed consuming 500 mg of beet juice significantly lowered blood pressure in healthy adults.
Fermented vegetables — The great thing about fermenting vegetables like cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and cauliflower is that you get a healthy dose of probiotics in addition to the vegetables’ existing nutrients. Probiotics help balance your gut microbiota and keep it robust, which not only leads to better gastrointestinal health but can actually improve brain health as well, according to some studies.
Blueberries — Given their many nutritious qualities, berries have been called the leafy greens of the fruit world. Adding any berry to your diet is a good move, but if you want an extra boost of fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients, the blueberry is a good one to pick. Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in fruits and vegetables that combat inflammation and could boost immunity and protection against carcinogens.
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Healthy plant-based diet associated with lower stroke risk — Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The 13 Healthiest Leafy Green Vegetables — Healthline
What are the health benefits of kale? — Medical News Today
What are the most healthful vegetables? — Medical News Today
Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function — Harvard Medical School
What Are the Best Fruits for You? A Dietitian’s Top 5 Picks — Cleveland Clinic
What Are Phytonutrients? — Live Science