High blood pressure is one of the highest risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. As a result, researchers are actively seeking lifestyle interventions to limit its damaging effects and lower blood pressure over time.
While fully plant-based and vegan diets have been known to benefit cardiovascular health, a new report from researchers at the University of Warwick suggests that any attempt to increase plant-based eating may go a long way.
It may not take going fully plant-based to lower blood pressure.
For this new report, which was published in the Journal of Hypertension today, researchers analyzed data from previous studies to compare the impact of plant-based diets on blood pressure.
"We reviewed 41 studies involving 8,416 participants, in which the effects of seven different plant-based diets (including DASH, Mediterranean, vegetarian, vegan, Nordic, high fiber, and high fruit and vegetables) on blood pressure were studied in controlled clinical trials," explains Joshua Gibbs, the paper's lead author. "A systematic review and meta-analysis of these studies showed that most of these diets lowered blood pressure."
Of all the diets evaluated by the studies, Gibbs says that the DASH diet had the largest impact on blood pressure—which makes sense, considering the name stands for "Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension" and it focuses on foods that may help lower blood pressure. Another notable mention is the ever-popular Mediterranean diet, which isn't explicitly plant-based but does limit red meats and encourages more nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and grains.
How to incorporate plant-based meals into your diet.
Plant-based diets technically differ from vegan diets based on one major factor: They place an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods. Essentially, a plant-based diet is all about fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Senior author Francesco Cappuccio, M.D., does say that while the study indicates the power of a plant-based diet for lowering blood pressure, "the translation of this knowledge into real benefits to people [...] depends on a variety of factors." "For an individual, the ability to adopt a plant-based diet would be influenced by socio-economic factors (costs, availability, access), perceived benefits and difficulties, resistance to change, age, health status, low adherence due to palatability, and acceptance."
So if you're able to, beginning your day with a veggie-packed meal is a great place to start. From there, it's about making choices that limit the animal products in your diet and prioritize whole, unprocessed plant foods. That said, this report shows you don't necessarily have to be perfectly plant-based—just making an effort can help you maintain healthy blood pressure.