Adopting a healthful plant-based diet reduces risks of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, according to a new study published in the JAMA Network open journal. Conversely, a diet that is made up of plant-based foods with increased consumption of sugary beverages, snacks, desserts, refined grains, potatoes, and fruit juices was linked to an elevated risk. 

The study concludes that a high-quality plant-based diet is beneficial for health, irrespective of established chronic disease risk factors and genetic predisposition.

For the study, researchers examined the correlation between adherence to a healthful plant-based diet and mortality risk. While previous research suggests that a healthy plant-based diet involving limited intake of animal-based foods and processed plant-based foods is linked to a reduced likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, the researchers noted that a comprehensive assessment of plant-based diet quality in relation to risk of mortality and major chronic diseases was lacking.


The study utilized the UK Biobank, which involves a prospective study encompassing a population-based sample of more than 500,000 persons between the ages of 40 and 69 who were recruited from 2006 to 2010. The study’s participants must have attended one of the 22 assessment centers in England, Wales, and Scotland, where they underwent a thorough baseline assessment.

Plant-based diet and illness 

A healthful plant-based diet and unhealthful plant-based diet were evaluated based on a scoring system that assigned positive scores to healthy plant foods and negative scores to less healthy plant foods and animal-derived foods.

 The food group intakes exceeding zero portions were categorized into quartiles, and the individuals involved in the study were categorized into quartiles based on the amount of each food group they consumed and subsequently received a score ranging from two to five.

Of the 502,411 participants, 126,394 individuals had accessible data from at least two dietary recalls at baseline, along with pertinent covariates. Of that subsample, 70,618 were females and 55,776 were males, and the average age of the group was 56.1 years. Over a follow-up period ranging from 10.6 to 12.2 years, this study observed 5,627 deaths, 6,890 cardiovascular disease cases, 8,939 cancer cases, and 4,751 fracture cases.


Notably, the study found that individuals with higher scores for a healthful plant-based diet were more likely to be female, possess a lower body-mass index (BMI), be of advanced age, report no medication intake, have no chronic health conditions, exhibit lower alcohol consumption, and have a higher level of education compared to those with lower scores for a healthful plant-based diet.

Does a plant-based diet lower risk of death?

The study utilized multivariable-adjusted models to determine the association between healthful plant-based diet scores and all-cause mortality. The results indicated that individuals with higher healthful diet scores exhibited a 16 percent lower likelihood of all-cause mortality than those with lower scores. In contrast, individuals who had higher scores on the unhealthful diet scale exhibited a 23 percent increased likelihood of experiencing mortality from any cause.

The study found that increased adherence to a healthful plant-based diet was linked to a 7 percent reduction in the likelihood of developing cancer. Conversely, individuals with higher unhealthful diet scores exhibited a 10 percent greater risk of developing cancer


In this study, no significant correlations were observed between healthful or unhealthful diets and frequently diagnosed prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers.

Additionally, the study revealed that increased healthful diet scores were linked to decreased risks of total ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction, and cardiovascular disease. Higher unhealthful diet scores positively correlated with increased susceptibility to ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction, and total cardiovascular disease. 

“This finding is of particular public health relevance, as it suggests individual benefits of healthful [plant-based diets] irrespective of genetic predisposition for [cardiovascular disease],” the study notes.

“At the same time, absolute risk reduction due to a healthful [plant-based diet] may be greater among individuals with a stronger genetic predisposition for [cardiovascular disease], given their higher lifetime risk of [cardiovascular disease].”

The study findings indicated that adopting a healthful plant-based diet reduces risks of total cardiovascular, cancer, and overall mortality. Conversely, an eating regimen primarily composed of plant-based foods with increased consumption of sugary beverages, snacks, desserts, refined grains, potatoes, and fruit juices was linked to an elevated risk.


The study also noted that prioritizing the consumption of nutritious plant-based foods can enhance overall health and furnish evidence in favor of adopting a wholesome plant-based diet for cardiovascular disease prevention, regardless of an individual’s genetic predisposition to the disease.

“Our results support a shift toward food intake that emphasizes healthy plant foods to improve health and provide data to support a healthful [plant-based diet] for [cardiovascular disease] prevention irrespective of genetic disease risk,” the study concludes, noting that further research is needed to evaluate the association between plant-based diets and the risk of significant chronic illnesses in more diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural groups.

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