Eating More Plants and Less Meat Lowers Blood Pressure, Study Finds

Changing to a complete vegetarian diet isn't necessary to heart health benefits, discover researchers
August 13, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020

New research finds that a plant-based diet can lower blood pressure even if small amounts of meat and dairy are also consumed. The study from the University of Warwick suggests that any effort to eat more plant-based foods can benefit blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Researchers reviewed 41 studies involving 8,416 participants, which included the effects of seven different plant-based diets on blood pressure. These included the DASH diet, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Vegan, Nordic, high fiber, and high fruit and vegetables. The clinical trials offered a systematic review which concluded that most of these diets were able to reduce blood pressure. Overall, the DASH diet had the most significant effect, lowering blood pressure by 5.53/3.79 mmHg compared to a control diet, and by 8.74/6.05 mmHg when compared to a “usual” diet.

Lead author Joshua Gibbs said, “A blood pressure reduction of the scale caused by higher consumption of plant-based diets, even with limited animal products would result in a 14 percent reduction in strokes, a 9 percent reduction in heart attacks and a 7 percent reduction in overall mortality.”

“This is a significant finding as it highlights that complete eradication of animal products is not necessary to produce reductions and improvements in blood pressure. Essentially, any shift towards a plant-based diet is a good one.”

Researchers noted that the adoption of a plant-based diet could not only improve health but could also play a role in global food sustainability and security. If more people ate more plant-based foods and less meat, it would reduce land use for food production, reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to global water conservation.

The Leading Risk Factor

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against the artery walls is high enough to eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. It is currently the leading risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. An unhealthy diet can contribute to high blood pressure and is responsible for more deaths and disabilities globally than tobacco use, high alcohol intake, and drug use put together.

This study helps to outline the health benefits of following a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet is based around the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and limits the consumption of most or all animal products including meat and dairy. Previous research has shown that increased consumption of whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit could avert up to 4.9 million deaths globally respectively every year.

Vegetarian and vegan diets with a complete absence of animal products have previously been shown to lower blood pressure compared to omnivorous diets. However, until now, it has not been known whether a complete absence of animal products is necessary for plant-based dietary patterns to gain a significant beneficial effect on blood pressure.

Overall, researchers suggest following a plant-based diet with small amounts of animal products. This can offer maximum health benefits and help to lower the risk of high blood pressure.

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.