Getting fat in your diet from plant sources — like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils — may reduce the risk for stroke compared with getting fat from meat, according to a new study presented at the 2021 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions and described in an article at HealthDay.
Following a mostly plant-based diet has been found to have beneficial effects on a wide range of health outcomes, including potentially slower progression of chronic kidney disease and a lower risk for developing COVID-19 or experiencing the worst effects of the viral infection. It’s worth noting that while the term “plant-based diet” is commonly used, there’s evidence that regularly consuming fermented dairy foods like cheese and yogurt may have particular benefits — so these dairy foods should potentially be viewed differently from other animal-based foods like meat and poultry. Fish and other seafood are also widely seen as beneficial foods, including for cardiovascular health and possibly a lower risk for type 1 diabetes in people with a high risk for the condition.
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Fat intake from plants linked to lower stroke risk
For the latest study on sources of dietary fat, researchers used data from two long-running studies involving over 117,000 participants. Each participant completed a dietary questionnaire at the beginning of the study, then every four years until the study’s end or until the person dropped out or died. Over a follow-up period of 27 years, about 6,200 participants had a stroke. But among participants who fell in the top fifth for intake of plant-based fats, the incidence of stroke was 12% lower than among those in the bottom fifth. On the other hand, among participants who fell in the top fifth for intake of meat-based fats, the incidence of stroke was 16% higher than among those in the bottom fifth. After adjusting for several differences among participants — including overall energy intake, physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use, and health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure — the researchers found that for each serving of red meat participants ate each day, the risk for stroke increased by 8%. For every serving of processed meat — such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats — the risk for stroke increased by 12%.
It’s important to note, the researchers said, that these numbers don’t show that fat intake is the reason behind the higher or lower stroke risk that each group experienced. People who eat more plant-based fats may also engage in other healthy behaviors, while those who eat more meat-based fats may also have other lifestyle factors that contribute to stroke risk. And red meat and processed meat may contain substances other than fat that could increase the risk for stroke. Still, these numbers suggest that there may be a connection between stroke and sources of fat in your diet — and that getting most of your fat from plant sources like nuts, seeds, and avocados could be a way to reduce your stroke risk.