Are All Plant-Based Diets Created Equal?

April 2, 2020 Updated: April 11, 2020

If the goal is heart health, blood sugar control, or management for seemingly countless conditions, what’s the universal answer?

Say it with me: Eat more plant-based foods.

But does a plant-based diet necessarily mean you’re going to experience a drop in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and improve your heart health? Not exactly, says a preliminary study.

The study first compared animal product eaters. They found that people with heavier plant consumption had about three servings of animal food per day, and those eating less plants had five animal food servings per day.

Even a small reduction of animal-based products—particularly processed meats—was associated with better cardiovascular health. Next, they looked at people who ate more plant-based foods to assess the overall health of their diet.

What emerged is that plant-based doesn’t necessarily translate to better health. The type of plant-based foods makes a major difference. So much so that diets high in some plant-based foods didn’t see a drop in cardiovascular disease risk.

People who ate more whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, coffee, and tea showed a much lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

But those who ate more unhealthy plant-based foods, like sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains, sweets, and the like, didn’t see their risk drop.

Theoretically, a plate of french fries, a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, and a can of soda are all plant-based foods. It is possible to be a vegetarian and have an unhealthy diet. But the reality is that french fries don’t have the nutrition of potatoes. Not even close.

So, if you want to cut back on meat and boost plant-based items to improve your heart health, avoid processed foods like white bread, candy, and french fries. Instead, focus your efforts on colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, and other “natural” foods.

Devon Andre holds a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from the University of Windsor in Canada and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Andre is a journalist for BelMarraHealthwhich first published this article.