Vegan dinner cuts heart disease risk by 10%, study suggests

·3-min read
Vegan poke bowl with avocado, tofu, rice, seaweed, carrots and mangoes. Vegan food concept.
Going vegan, just at dinnertime, could cut your risk of heart disease. (Stock, Getty Images)

Eating a vegan dinner could cut your risk of heart disease by 10%, research suggests.

The number of Britons adopting a plant-based lifestyle is said to have quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 alone.

Whether it's concerns over animal welfare, climate change or our own wellbeing – more and more people are cutting out meat and dairy.

While a completely plant-based diet may be too extreme for some, being "flexitarian" could also have benefits.

Read more: Having lots of siblings has been linked to heart disease

After analysing more than 27,000 US adults, scientists from Harbin Medical University in China have revealed eating a vegan dinner reduces a person's heart disease risk, even if they are carnivorous for the rest of the day.

elder heart attack chest paint for background with space for text
Cutting back on meat, dairy and eggs could ward off heart disease. (Stock, Getty Images)

"Meal timing along with food quality are important factors to consider when looking for ways to lower your risk of heart disease," said study author Ying Li. 

"Our study found people who eat a plant-based dinner with more whole carbs and unsaturated fats reduced their risk of heart disease by 10%."

Read more: Loneliness raises heart disease risk in post-menopausal women

Whole carbohydrates include vegetables, lentils and wholemeal grains – like brown bread, rice and pasta. Heart-healthy unsaturated fats include olive oil, fatty fish – like salmon, and nuts and seeds.

"It's always recommended to eat a healthy diet, especially for those at high risk for heart disease, but we found eating meat and refined carbs for breakfast instead of dinner was associated with a lower risk," said Li.

Watch: A vegan meal plan for beginners

Heart disease is behind more than one in four deaths in the UK alone.

The quality and quantity of the food we consume has long been known to influence our health. The extent to which meal timing affects our wellbeing was less clear, however.

To learn more, the Harbin scientists analysed participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, who provided information on their diet.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who ate the highest amounts of "low quality" carbohydrates – like white bread, rice or pasta – were 63% more likely to develop angina, chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the vital organ.

Read more: Healthy heart helps people solve problems

They also faced 47% higher odds of enduring a heart attack, compared to those who ate the least amount of low-quality carbohydrates, as reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Those who consumed the most "animal protein" – like meat, dairy or eggs – were 44% more likely to develop angina or endure heart disease.

When it came to heart-healthy unsaturated fats, those who consumed the most were 24% less likely to have a stroke.

Swapping a dinner that is high in low-quality carbohydrates and animal protein for a meal rich in high-quality carbohydrates and plant protein – like quinoa, lentils and seeds – was linked to a 10% lower heart disease risk.

It has been suggested that a diet rich in processed meat or cheese could be somewhat off-set by also loading up on fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish.

A lighter evening meal may enable the body to better controls its blood-sugar level, while a more calorie-dense breakfast could set someone up for the day, helping them resist unhealthy snacks.

Meanwhile, low-quality carbohydrates have been linked to spikes in blood-sugar levels, inflammation and insulin resistance, when cells do not properly respond to the glucose-lowering hormone.

The pros and cons of eating meat and dairy have long been debated. High-quality products are generally considered healthy in moderation. 

Processed meats – like bacon, hot dogs and salami – have been linked to raised cholesterol levels and even cancer, however.

Watch: How to make carrot 'bacon'