News

Plant-Based Diets Lower Blood Pressure, New Meta-Analysis Shows

Man unpacking vegetable box

Key Takeaways

  • A new meta-analysis found that plant-based diets can lower blood pressure, even when they include occasional meat and dairy.
  • Adding more plants to your plate can yield a range of benefits, from cancer prevention to brain health.
  • There are ways to increase plant consumption without giving up meat and dairy for good.

Plant-based diets have been touted for providing a range of health benefits including blood pressure regulation, but do meals containing animal products raise the risk of hypertension? A new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Hypertension concludes that it's OK to enjoy a little meat and cheese every now and then.

Researchers looked at 41 clinical trials involving 8,416 participants and seven different diet types: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Mediterranean, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, Nordic, high fiber, and high fruit and vegetable. Of the diet types that included animal products, only modest amounts were consumed.

The results of the analysis showed that diets with limited animal products lowered blood pressure compared with an "average" control diet that did not emphasize plant-based eating. The highest certainty was associated with the DASH diet (which includes meat in small amounts) and the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (which includes some dairy and eggs), followed by the Nordic and Mediterranean diets (which are primarily fish- and legume-focused).

Plant-Based Diets Lower Blood Pressure

The DASH diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and sweets, and low-fat dairy products, had the most significant effect—reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.53/3.78 mmHg compared to the other diets, and 8.74/6.05 mmHg compared to a standardized control diet. All seven diets, however, were effective in controlling hypertension, according to senior author Francesco Cappuccio, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine and epidemiology at Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

"What this says is that you can have some red meat and dairy, although it's still a good idea to eat those on a more occasional basis," he says. "The message here is you don't have to completely give up animal protein in order to have blood-pressure regulation."

In terms of why the DASH diet seemed to be at the top, Cappuccio says that was not explored in the analysis, but he believes it's likely because that diet, in particular, has blood pressure-lowering factors like:

  • Increased fiber
  • More potassium
  • Antioxidants
  • Polyphenols
  • Reduced sodium

Reduction of blood pressure on a larger scale could reduce the incidence of strokes and heart attacks, Cappuccio adds, and the news that some meat and dairy is OK might be enough to nudge people toward more plant-based options.

What This Means for You

Your vegan friend may insist otherwise, but the evidence is clear: you don’t have to go full vegan, or even vegetarian, to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. Simply increasing your intake of plant-based foods, altering portion sizes, and maybe eating salad with dinner more regularly could be enough to improve your cardiovascular health.

Eat Food, Mostly Plants

When journalist and author Michael Pollan wrote In Defense of Food in 2008, he offered the mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Though this may seem like somewhat general advice to stay healthy, Pollan's insight still rings true to this day, directing people away from ultra-processed food that may be lacking in nutrient density and toward plant-based eating, keeping portion control in mind.

Prioritizing plant-based foods in your diet can have numerous health benefits, including:

  • Cancer prevention
  • Better immune function
  • Heart health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • More energy
  • Higher sleep quality
  • Brain health

Particularly important is that a plant-based diet can reduce the risks that come with inflammation, a condition that increases as we age. Replacing animal-based protein with plant protein like beans, nuts, tofu, and quinoa can keep this natural process more controlled, according to Adela Hruby, Ph.D., scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Options like these also have antioxidants and fiber, she says, which can also have major advantages for everything from digestive function to brain health.

“Our research suggests that including enough protein in the diets of older adults, especially from plant sources, may help reduce the burden of frailty, sickness, and disease that is associated with the chronic inflammation of aging," she says.

Adela Hruby, P.h.D.

“Our research suggests that including enough protein in the diets of older adults, especially from plant sources, may help reduce the burden of frailty, sickness, and disease that is associated with the chronic inflammation of aging.

— Adela Hruby, P.h.D.

Finding Dietary Balance

As the recent analysis suggests, it's not necessary to cut out meat and dairy completely, but as Cappuccio advises, creating limits can be helpful. He suggests leaning more toward chicken and fish than red meat, and also to add in more plant-based proteins such as:

  • Lentils
  • Soy
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Quinoa
  • Sprouted grains
  • Oatmeal
  • Chia
  • Wild rice
  • Nuts

Also helpful is to add more plant-only meals into the mix, such as having "meatless Monday" or using plant-based protein instead of animal-based options for your breakfast and lunches. But there's also value in not being too rigid because that can backfire and create cravings, says functional medicine dietitian Maria Zamarripa, RD.

"You want to focus on replacement, not deprivation," she suggests. "See the introduction of more plant-based options as a fun way to change up what you're eating, not as a step away from your 'favorite foods.' Maybe it's just time to find some new, healthy favorites."

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alexander S, Ostfeld RJ, Allen K, Williams KA. A plant-based diet and hypertension. J Geriatr Cardiol. 2017;14(5):327-330. doi:10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.014

  2. Gibbs J, Gaskin E, Ji C, Miller MA, Cappuccio FP. The effect of plant-based dietary patterns on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled intervention trials. Hypertension. 2020. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000002604

  3. Gibbs J, Gaskin E, Ji C, Miller MA, Cappuccio FP. The effect of plant-based dietary patterns on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled intervention trials. Hypertension. 2020. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000002604

  4. Godos J, Vitale M, Micek A, et al. Dietary Polyphenol Intake, Blood Pressure, and Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(6). doi:10.3390/antiox8060152

  5. Pollan M. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group; 2008.

  6. American Heart Association. How does Plant-Forward (Plant-Based) Eating Benefit your Health?.

  7. Sanada F, Taniyama Y, Muratsu J, et al. Source of Chronic Inflammation in AgingFront Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5:12. 2018. doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00012

  8. Goñi I, Hernández-galiot A. Intake of Nutrient and Non-Nutrient Dietary Antioxidants. Contribution of Macromolecular Antioxidant Polyphenols in an Elderly Mediterranean Population. Nutrients. 2019;11(9). doi:10.3390/nu11092165

  9. Wilson DW, Nash P, Buttar HS, et al. The Role of Food Antioxidants, Benefits of Functional Foods, and Influence of Feeding Habits on the Health of the Older Person: An Overview. Antioxidants (Basel). 2017;6(4). doi:10.3390/antiox6040081