VEGAN DIET FOR HEART HEALTH
Why a vegan diet for heart health benefits? Very simply, switching to a healthy, vegan diet for heart health diminishes our chances of heart problems. In fact, chances drop to near zero when we choose a healthy vegan diet and lifestyle.
Heart disease remains the single biggest deadly disease in the United States. Adding to our concerns, it affects women and men equally. However, many are unaware that we have the ability to prevent heart disease, Simply adopt a healthy vegan diet for heart health.
Other than congenital heart issues or a few other medical causes, the vast majority of heart disease evolve from lifestyle choices, especially dietary. Even those with inherited characteristics find that a vegan diet for heart health helps build a healthier life.
Not just plant-based, but healthy, too
A healthy, low-fat, high fiber diet with healthy complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits helps prevent heart disease. Additionally, it reduces the incidence of many other dangerous illnesses. Even if your family has a genetic history of a certain disease, you need to trigger the genes responsible for the disease with an environmental factor before they occur.
This helps explain why a vegan diet aids in both the prevention and control of heart disease. The vegan diet includes only plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), seeds and nuts. However, some prefer other variants of vegetarian diets apart from the strict vegan diet. They may include vegans, who eat no animal products; semi-vegetarians, who eat meat infrequently only once weekly; pesco-vegetarians, who eat fish but not meat; and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who consume dairy products and eggs.
Most Saturated Fat from Animal Sources
Vegans have a lower intake of saturated fat and a higher intake of fiber, leading to lower cholesterol levels. In some studies, vegans, and lacto-ovo- vegetarians were grouped together and were found to be at lower risk for heart disease. However, in a recent analysis of the Adventist Health Study, vegan men had a lower risk of dying from heart disease in comparison with the lacto-ovo-vegetarians and non-vegetarians.3
Individuals who opt for a vegan diet avoid eating meat or animal products like dairy and eggs. The vegan diet has been shown to protect against heart disease. It has been discovered that a high consumption of saturated fat from red meat can increase blood cholesterol levels which in turn leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Hence, it has been suggested that adopting a vegan diet for heart disease could help in both the prevention and treatment of the disease.
Cholesterol and Lipoproteins
High blood cholesterol levels have been linked to increased risk of heart disease. The accumulation of excess cholesterol in the blood vessels results in the narrowing of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. A healthy blood cholesterol level results from appropriate proportions of different lipoproteins in the blood. Lipoproteins take part in the transportation of cholesterol around the body. Increased blood cholesterol levels are associated with a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Clarke et al (British Medical Journal, 1997)1 found that replacing saturated fats with complex carbohydrates resulted in a significant reduction of cholesterol levels. They noted an average reduction of 10 to 15%. Red meats have high saturated fats. However, vegan diets which lack red meat and dairy products contain little to no saturated fat.
The Benefit of Fiber in Vegan Diet
A vegan diet consists of a lot of fiber. Professionals estimate that most vegans consume about 50-100% more fiber than non-vegans. This makes vegans less disposed to the risk of heart disease. A high-fiber diet offers a more favorable lipoprotein profiles, thus bringing about a lower risk of heart disease. Furthermore, soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol levels. This in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.
The Benefit of Folic Acid in Leafy Greens
Most fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, contain high levels of folic acid. Vegans consume more vegetables in their diet than non-vegans. Therefore, heart disease occurs in vegans that choose a healthy lifestyle much less frequently. Research shows that folic acid helps in reducing homocysteine levels. Lower homocysteine levels reduce the risk of heart disease.
One study subjected a number of healthy subjects to a vegan diet along with other lifestyle criteria like abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, physical exercise and stress management. This study was conducted by DeRose et al with the result published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine.2 The findings revealed that plasma homocysteine levels were significantly reduced in just one week of intervention. However, this study did not isolate vegan diet alone. Therefore, a complete conclusion cannot be drawn to show that vegan diet was responsible. However, it seems reasonable that the plant-based diet assisted or caused the reduction in plasma homocysteine. Further studies should eliminate other lifestyle restrictions to assess the amount of involvement.
Vegan Diet and Heart Disease Treatment
Sanders et al conducted a study which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.4 In that study, a number of conditions or features that are related to the risk of heart disease were compared between vegans and non-vegans. The vegan group had a lower weight and skinfold thickness than non-vegans. This result suggests a lesser likelihood of develping obesity when a vegan lifestyle is adopted. Furthermore, the vegan group showed a significantly lower cholesterol level and a higher proportion of linoleic acid than non-vegans. These results suggest that a vegan diet may be helpful in angina and heart disease treatment.
Vegan Diet For Heart Disease Prevention and Treatment
The following are some ways a vegan diet can protect you from heart disease:
Replace Fatty Meats with Plant-based Diet
- Our bodies require a small amount of cholesterol to properly function. However, our body generates this naturally, without the consumption of fatty meats. Plants don’t produce cholesterol, only animal-derived food products do. Excessive cholesterol in the body harms our health. The American Heart Association warns that high cholesterol in the blood to be a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
- LDL (low density lipid) cholesterol (LDL), known as the bad form of cholesterol. Physicians consider it one of the products responsible for atherosclerotic plaque. Other products that contribute to this plaque in the arteries (that convey blood away from the heart) include calcium, fats, and waste products. These bring about the blockage and hardening of the arteries which often result in a stroke or heart attack.
- Foods like olive oil, nuts, and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, provide a healthy replacement for saturated fats and oils. Using these replacements helps achieve a low blood cholesterol level. Medical professionals recommend we consume less than 10% of daily calories from saturated fats. Nutrition experts agree on the desirability of replacing fatty meats and poultry with plant-based foods.
Fiber in Plant-based Diet Provides Health Benefits
- A plant-based diet supplies enough fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber aids in reducing the bad cholesterol circulating in your body. The fiber acts by interacting with the bad cholesterol in your digestive tract and helps in removing the cholesterol faster from your body. Consequently, your body absorbs less total amount of bad cholesterol. Foods rich in fiber include lentils, beans, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
Less concentration of Saturated Fat in Vegan Diet
- Plant-based foods help in avoiding intake of saturated fats. Meat and animal products like beef, lamb, cheese, butter, and high-fat dairy products contain excess saturated fat. Some plants, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.contain fewer amounts of saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) medical experts state that eating foods containing saturated fats increases your blood cholesterol level. And an increase in blood cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. AHA recommends only about 13 grams (g) of saturated fat per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. A plant based diet provides this safe level or below.
Diabetes and Obesity Risks increased with Meat Consumption
- Consuming higher amounts of saturated fats from animal products often leads to an Increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, diabetes increases your risk of experiencing heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) also stated that diabetes increases your risk of having heart disease or stroke at an earlier age.
- A plant-based diet with its low level of saturated fat, helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, vegetables and fruits contain more water, more fiber, and fewer calories, thus aiding the attainment of weight loss.
Vegan Diet provides Omega-3s
- Omega-3 fatty acids lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. We must obtain omega-3 fatty acids through our diet as our bodies do not provide it.
- Plants provide some kinds of omega-3s that convert into usable omega-3s. The plant-based omega-3, known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) provides the base to convert to usable Omega 3. Plant-based foods providing good sources of ALA include soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds. However, DHA and EPA convert more readily into usable omega-3s than do the plant-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). As a result of this, a number of dietary guidelines that advocate the lowering of meat and poultry consumption recommend the regular consumption of fish or fish oil supplement. However, many experts, including Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, disagree. They show strong support with reliable evidence for a completely plant-based diet which derives Omega 3’s from plant sources.
- Some show good results by using a small supplement that is derived from algae, which is where fish get their DHA.
Read: Omega 3 Algae Source
A Vegan Diet For Heart Health Contains Other Useful Nutrients
- A vegan diet provides a number of nutrients that protect the heart. For instance, vegetables and fruits offer many antioxidants, phytochemicals, plant sterols, and potassium. These all work together to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- For example, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), potassium helps reduce the effects of sodium on blood pressure. Therefore, a diet rich in potassium and lower in salt, such as a heart healthy vegan one, helps prevent heart disease.
- Many plant-based foods provide a good source of potassium. Consider including foods containing sweet potatoes, soybeans, almonds, bananas, and apricots. Other potassium rich foods include spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cantaloupe.
Fruits and Vegetables Lower Blood Pressure
- Physicians and nutritionists often recommend the DASH diet. Dash, also known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, does offer some help with lowering blood pressure. Although this diet reduces the amount of sodium in the diet, it also reduces meat intake. The DASH diet entails increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and eating only 5 ounces of protein-based foods daily. Additionally, it recommends eating not more than 26 oz of meat, poultry, and eggs each week.
- A large hypertension study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, compared the DASH diet with a typical American diet. The study revealed that the DASH diet lowered blood pressure among the participants.
Meat has other harmful compounds
- In addition to saturated fats and cholesterol, meat contains other harmful compounds that might harm your heart health. For example, heme (iron), derived from the blood of meat, produces a reactive oxygen that often contributes to a heart attack.
- Carnitine, found in animal products such as red meat, high-fat dairy, and eggs, creates more heart health issues. Carnitine becomes toxic when converted to trimethylamine N-oxide in the gut. Toxic to the system, this metabolite acts as a transporter of cholesterol to the arteries.
Our Vegan Quesadilla Recipe offers an abundance of heart healthy ingredients!
- R Clarke, C Frost, R Collins “Dietary Lipids and Blood Cholesterol: Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Metabolic Ward Studies” British Medical Journal 314:112 (1997)
- DJ DeRose, ZL Charles-Marcel, JM Jamison “Vegan Diet-based Lifestyle Program Rapidly Lowers Homocysteine Levels” Preventative Medicine 30:225-233 (2000)
- M Thorogood, R Carter, L Benfield “Plasma Lipids and Lipoprotein Cholesterol concentrations in People With Different Diets in Britain” British Medical Journal Clinical Research Edition 295-351 (1987)
- TAB Sanders, FR Ellis, FRC Path “Studies of Vegans: The Fatty Acid Composition of Plasma Choline Phosphoglycerides, Erythrocytes, Adipose Tissue and Breast Milk. and Some Indicators of Susceptibility to Ischaemic Heart Disease in Vegans and Omnivore Controls” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 31:805-813 (1978)