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Want to Lose Weight? Eat Less of This

A plant-based diet can improve heart health and add years to your life.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the health benefits of a plant-based diet, but studies suggest adopting one has numerous health benefits. A plant-based diet limits or even excludes animal products, and a healthy plant-based diet limits oils and processed foods. Replacing typically high-fat animal products, like beef and cheese, with plant-based nutrients can reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease and may even help you live longer.  

Fear not, you don’t have to swear off meat entirely. In fact, according to Blue Zones’ Power 9 principles, a centenarian—someone in a Blue Zone who lives to be at least 100 years old—eats meat, primarily pork, about five times per month. Indulging in the occasional burger is OK, but the real health benefits come when a diet is based mostly on fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts, seeds and 100 percent whole grains. 

Reap the health benefits of a plant-based diet 

  • Longevity: One study that followed people for 28 years found that each daily serving of red meat increased the risk of death by 13 percent. Another study suggests that if men reduced red meat consumption to less than half a serving (1.5 ounces) per day, 1 in 10 premature deaths could be prevented. 

          You can reduce your risk of an early death by swapping red meat for other proteins, like nuts and legumes. 
 
Start your quest for a longer, healthier life by taking the RealAge Test, which measures your age, based on your lifestyle and family history. If your RealAge is younger than your biological age, you’re on track to live a healthy life. If it’s older, we’ll give you personalized help to improve your health. 
  

  • Heart disease: The health of your heart is determined by a variety of factors: lifestyle, family history, age and more. Two major risk factors—high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure—are affected by red meat consumption. Studies suggest that the health benefits of plant-based diets can include lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 

A 3-ounce serving of 85 percent-lean ground beef has 25 percent of the daily limit for saturated fat. A 1/2 cup of pinto beans, however, contains only 1 gram of total fat. Pinto beans also contain fewer calories and more fiber, two agents that promote weight loss. 
  

  • Weight loss: A plant-based diet may promote weight loss and reduce a person’s risk of obesity, a review of 87 studies suggests. Another analysis suggests vegans and vegetarians consume less fat than those who eat meat and animal products. Others still suggest a positive correlation between obesity and the consumption of meat, and conversely, a lower body mass index (BMI) associated with a vegetarian diet. 

Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and more. Lowering your BMI reduces the risk of many of these diseases. 

Optimize plant-based eating 
Remember: Not all meatless meals are healthy, so eating a plant-based diet for heart health takes some preparation. The recommended daily values of key food groups include 2 cups of fruit, 2-1/2 cups of vegetables and 3-1/2 ounces of protein but getting the nutrients your body needs from a plant-based diet takes some figuring. 

If you’re vegan and avoid dairy, you can get your protein and calcium in other ways. Adapting to a plant-based diet and eating the recommended value of various nutrients may take some time, but here are a few swaps to get you started: 

  • Protein: Ditch the beef, and load up on beans and other legumes. 
  • Calcium: Swap a glass of whole milk for a serving or two of kale. Although milk contains more calcium per serving, kale is still an excellent source. 
  • Iron: Plant-based iron, found in lentils and leafy greens, isn’t absorbed easily. Eat fruits high in vitamin C—like citrus fruits and strawberries—to help your body absorb iron more efficiently. 

Medically reviewed in January 2020. Updated in March 2021. 

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