If you think that you can wait to start eating healthy and that Mother Nature forgives all our terrible habits of eating badly as a kid, teenager, or twentysomething, think again. A new study just emerged that showed eating a plant-based or plant-centric diet during young adulthood (aged 18 to 30) serves to lower your risk of heart disease decades later.

The most impressive thing about this research is that it took 30 years of follow-up to complete. The study tracked the dietary habits of nearly 5,000 people between 1985 and 2018. The researchers assessed a "Plant‐centered diet quality" by using A Priori Diet Quality Score (APDQS), which gave higher scores for "higher consumption of nutritionally rich plant foods and limited consumption of high‐fat meat products and less healthy plant foods."

What they found was those with the highest APDQS score – most plants, least meat and dairy – had the lowest risk of heart disease. So the more plant-based foods you eat in your early adulthood and the fewer animal products you consume, the higher your chances of living heart disease-free in your 50s, 60s, and beyond. This matters because 48 percent of Americans suffer from heart disease, and many younger people have conditions such as high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and high triglycerides, that can lead to cardiovascular disease, including strokes, heart attacks and other symptoms that won't show up as full-blown cardiovascular disease until later in life.

The foods that were identified as beneficial, according to the study, based on their known association with cardiovascular disease, were: Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. Foods that had a negative impact on heart disease risk, as identified by the study authors, were fried potatoes, high-fat red meat, salty snacks, pastries, and soft drinks. Foods that were classified as "neutral foods" were potatoes, refined grains, lean meats, and shellfish.

Eating plant-based leads to being healthier post menopause

Meanwhile, a separate study that followed the dietary habits of women for15 years of follow-up found that for people in their 30s and 40s, eating more plant-based foods can lead to lower cholesterol and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal decades.

Both studies were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, a publication of the American Heart Association. The first study, "A Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease during Young to Middle Adulthood," looked at whether skipping the burgers and eggs (and eating a "plant-centered diet" starting in young adulthood (from age 18 to 30) was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease 30 years later. It was.

"Earlier research was focused on single nutrients or single foods, yet there is little data about a plant-centered diet and the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease," according to the study's lead author, Yuni Choi, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

In the study of 123,330 post-menopausal women, who are part of the ongoing Women's Health Initiative (WHI) Prospective Cohort Study, researchers from Brown University evaluated the impact of following a diet rich in the "portfolio of plant-based foods with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved health claims for lowering LDL (or bad) cholesterol levels, also known as the Portfolio Diet. The women Wenrolled in the study between 1993 and 1998, (at the age of 50-79, with an average age of 62). They did not appear to have cardiovascular disease. The study was conducted until 2017, or more than 15 years of follow-up. Women who followed the Portfolio diet most closely were 11 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease of any kind, 14 percent less likely to have coronary heart disease, and 17 and less likely to develop heart failure, the study found.

Bottom Line: To be healthier in your future, start eating plant-based now

According to the study: Long‐term consumption of a plant‐centered diet, starting in young adulthood, was associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk later in life.

For more great content about how to live healthier by eating more plant-based check out The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles. For an easy 7 Day Beginner's Guide to Going Plant-Based, start with this free meal plan, complete with 4 recipes a day and expert tips to stay on track.

More From The Beet