Prevent Heart Disease with a Plant-Based Diet

Prevent Heart Disease with a Plant-Based Diet

Diet and Lifestyle Play Vital Roles in Heart Disease

abstract heartThere is a tremendous body of evidence showing that a plant-based diet is your best bet towards a healthier heart. Not only does the diet help in avoiding the risks of heart disease, it can even reverse this in people who already have heart disease. Dr. Dean Ornish’s research in the 1980s and other supporting studies correlated low-fat vegetarian diets to the reduction of cholesterol and ultimately lowering down the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr conducted a separate study among 198 people with documented cardiovascular diseases. Out of the 177 individuals who followed the strict plant-based diet, only one had a recurring stroke, while out of the 21 who didn’t follow the diet, 13 experienced recurring cardiovascular events.

A plant-based diet primarily aims to increase the amount of whole plant foods which have high nutrient per calorie density. At the same time, it encourages people to reduce or eliminate processed foods, animal foods and animal products, and oil in their meals. There are different schools of thought when it comes to plant-based diets, each with different limitations. For example, vegan diet excludes all animal products for food and for general consumption. One type of plant-based diet is the raw food vegan diet wherein you consume only raw food (produce) or food that is cooked at only less than 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Vegan diets exclude animal food including dairy and eggs.  However, vegetarian diets allow some animal food.  Types of vegetarian diets include the Lacto-vegetarian diet (allows milk and milk products), the Ovo-vegetarian (allows eggs), and the Lacto-Ovo vegetarian (allows both eggs and dairy). Some people follow a more flexitarian approach to eating, such as the Mediterranean diet which is primarily plant-based but includes small quantities of fish, eggs, dairy, and even a little meat. In this type of diet, consuming fresh, healthy fish and moderate amounts of extra virgin olive oil is highly promoted.

Cholesterol is a Product of Animal Metabolism

A 2010 research by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified related literature associating vegetarian diets with lower systolic and lower diastolic blood pressure. The human body does not need a lot of cholesterol for it to thrive. At the same time, it already produces its own cholesterol, making it unnecessary to consume more from fatty food such as meat. When your body has elevated amounts of cholesterol, it increases the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases which can lead to stroke and heart attack.

Cholesterol is composed of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and HDL or “good” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is associated with the formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Excess amounts of cholesterol and fats which are not utilized by the body for energy will build up in the arteries and block coronary blood flow or cause narrowing and damage in blood vessels throughout the body.

The main sources of bad cholesterol are saturated fats coming from meat and animal products including dairy, cheese, butter, and oil. The best way to lower blood cholesterol is to reduce overall fat consumption and to replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Many physicians recommend eating less meat and animal-based products and instead focusing on a diet based on at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and six to eight servings of whole grains each day.  A plant-based diet also aids in increasing your dietary fiber supply which is essential in lowering the amount of bad cholesterol that is already circulating in your system. Fiber works by helping remove the LDL cholesterol in your digestive tract (for eventual elimination). You can get a lot of dietary fiber from beans, lentils, leafy and non-leafy vegetables, fruits and nuts.

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Research Correlates Heart Disease with Animal Foods

Cardiovascular diseases are not only associated with high blood pressure, they are also associated with the onset of diabetes. The American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. According to research, at least 68 percent of older people aged 65 and above who had diabetes die from heart illnesses while 16 percent die from stroke. The good news is, you can manage and reduce blood sugar abnormalities through a plant-based diet.

According to the data provided by the Adventist Health Studies, individuals who eat the traditional meat-based North American diets are 74 percent more likely to develop diabetes compared to veggie eaters. Another study of the same group showed that the prevalence of diabetes on vegan and vegetarian diets are only at 2.9 percent while their meat-eating counterparts are at 7.9 percent. A separate study in 2006 showed that 43 percent of people who developed diabetes but later on followed a low-fat vegan diet were able to reduce or even eliminate diabetes medication. Following a plant-based diet helps in decreasing the body’s resistance to insulin while improving its sensitivity which is essential in diabetes and pre-diabetes management.

Proper weight management is another key element in avoiding the onset of heart diseases. In a study published in Nutrition Reviews, it was found that a person is capable of losing one pound per week by following a plant-based diet. In a vegetarian diet, you will be consuming more nutrients and lesser total fat, compared to when you are eating meat. For these reasons, it is easier to manage your weight and avoid storing body fat without sacrificing the quality of your meals. Even without meat, you are still satisfied and will feel fuller when your meals are composed of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That said, a cleaner, healthier way of eating can help you avoid obesity, which hosts a variety of diseases other than heart ailments.

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Phytonutrients in a Plant Based Diet are Powerful Allies

A plant-based diet is composed of a wide variety of foods which are nutrient-dense and heart protective. One of these is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is a component of omega-3 fatty acids. The primary source of ALA are soybeans, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Nuts and seeds also contain high levels of magnesium, copper, folic acid, fiber, vitamin E, and potassium. As a caution, you should still minimize your consumption of nuts because of their fat content. However, eating nuts is way healthier compared to processed foods and junk foods.

Fruits and vegetables also have high levels of potassium, folate, carotenoid, flavonoids, plant sterols, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, all of which are associated with heart health. Avoid the risk of heart attacks by consuming eight servings of fruits and vegetables. Four servings of green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and vitamin-C enriched fruits will also help you prevent stroke.

Pomegranate contains a unique antioxidant called punicalagin which is a very potent antioxidant as well as ellagic acid, another compound with significant health benefits.  There is a growing body of research demonstrating that pomegranate’s potent antioxidant capacity provides protection against heart disease, cancer and cognitive impairment.  Many patients with heart disease take pomegranate supplements daily.  This are preferred of the juice which contains quite a bit of sugars.  Many heart patient also have blood sugar issues so high sugar consumption should be moderated.

How many servings of fruit and vegetables do you eat each day?  Please let us know your favorites in the comments below.

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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