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Te Whanganui-a-Tara – Teenagers who eat plant-based food lowered their risk of heart disease in middle age, according to a long-term study with about 30 years of follow-up.

A separate study with about 15 years of follow-up found that eating more plant-based food helps lower cholesterol and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.

Eating more nutritious, plant-based foods is heart-healthy at any age, according to two research studies published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

In two separate studies analysing different measures of healthy plant food consumption, researchers found that both young adults and postmenopausal women had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease when they ate more healthy plant foods.

The American Heart Association suggests people follow an overall healthy diet emphasising a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils.

It also advises limited consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugary drinks.

Researchers found during 32 years of follow-up, that people who ate the most nutritionally rich plant foods and fewer adversely rated animal products were 52 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

In addition, between year seven and 20 of the study when participants ages ranged from 25 to 50, those who ate more beneficial plant foods and fewer adversely rated animal products were 61 percent less likely to develop subsequent cardiovascular disease.

There were few vegetarians among the participants, so the study was not able to assess the possible benefits of a strict vegetarian diet, which excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs.

Researchers said nutritionally rich, plant-centred diets were beneficial for cardiovascular health. A plant-centred diet is not necessarily vegetarian People can choose among plant foods that are as close to natural as possible, not highly processed.

Study results showed there is still room for people to incorporate more cholesterol-lowering plant foods into their diet.