Plant-based diets are recommended for coronary heart disease (CHD) prevention. However, not all plant foods are necessarily beneficial for health.
This study sought to examine associations between plant-based diet indices and CHD incidence.
We included 73,710 women in NHS (Nurses' Health Study) (1984 to 2012), 92,329 women in NHS2 (1991 to 2013), and 43,259 men in Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986 to 2012), free of chronic diseases at baseline. We created an overall plant-based diet index (PDI) from repeated semiquantitative food-frequency questionnaire data, by assigning positive scores to plant foods and reverse scores to animal foods. We also created a healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI) where healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits/vegetables, nuts/legumes, oils, tea/coffee) received positive scores, whereas less-healthy plant foods (juices/sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes/fries, sweets) and animal foods received reverse scores. To create an unhealthful PDI (uPDI), we gave positive scores to less-healthy plant foods and reverse scores to animal and healthy plant foods.
Over 4,833,042 person-years of follow-up, we documented 8,631 incident CHD cases. In pooled multivariable analysis, higher adherence to PDI was independently inversely associated with CHD (hazard ratio [HR] comparing extreme deciles: 0.92; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.83 to 1.01; p trend = 0.003). This inverse association was stronger for hDPI (HR: 0.75; 95% CI: 0.68 to 0.83; p trend <0.001). Conversely, uPDI was positively associated with CHD (HR: 1.32; 95% CI: 1.20 to 1.46; p trend <0.001).
Higher intake of a plant-based diet index rich in healthier plant foods is associated with substantially lower CHD risk, whereas a plant-based diet index that emphasizes less-healthy plant foods is associated with higher CHD risk.