Plant-based diet- A pathway to a healthy heart

Plant-based diet- A pathway to a healthy heart

Eugene He

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, emphasized the importance of good nutrition for good health back in 400 BC. Although ridiculed by his peers, the diseases we deal with today are a reflection of modern living and poor diets. A healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition through good food choices is an essential pillar for preserving good health, and managing existing illness.

Have you noticed supermarket aisles more commonly including vegan sections, or restaurants offering dedicated vegan meals? This reflects the growing awareness among consumers of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Ranging from improving heart problems, high cholesterol levels, and other lifestyle diseases.

Let’s discuss what a plant-based diet is and how it improves heart health.

Plant-based diet at a glance

Does eating plant based mean that you need to totally drop meat? Not necessarily. Plant-based diets primarily concentrate on a higher intake of plant foods, and a low intake of animal products, and take on different variations: 

  • Flexitarian: A plant-based diet with restricted meat and animal product intake.
  • Pescatarian: The diet allows mainly plant-based products and some seafood that is healthy for the heart. It completely excludes poultry and meat.
  • Vegetarian: This subset of plant-based diet exclusively prohibits the consumption of all animal flesh and meat.
  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarian: It includes milk and eggs in addition to the vegetable-based diet.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: It includes eggs with plant-based food but omits the milk.
  • Lacto vegetarian: It omits eggs but includes milk in addition to plant-based food products.
  • Vegans: Veganism more than a diet, it is a lifestyle whereby one doesn’t eat, wear, or use any animal products. Diet is strictly vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, spices, tofu, and herbs, and completely prohibits dairy products, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs and any other animal derived products.

As you can see from the above, there are different styles of plant based diets. To make it easier to sustain over the long term, choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and food preferences. 

Your Heart Health Depends on Your Food Choices 

“Heart disease is a foodborne illness.”
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, American physician

According to many scientific studies, making healthy food choices within plant-based diets and eating the right proportion of food helps lower the risk of heart diseases. Processed foods such as sausages, bacon, and burgers are well-proven factors that increase the risk of high cholesterol, excess body weight, and high blood pressure resulting in heart disease. 

Plant-based diets may help your heart health in different ways, such as:

  • Normalize blood pressure - Diets rich in fibers, minerals, and vitamins help lower your elevated blood pressure.
  • Healthy cholesterol number- Plant-based foods have low dietary cholesterol and very little quantity of saturated fat. Thus, it helps lower bad cholesterol, which is the common reason for narrowing the arteries leading to a heart attack.
  • Maintain healthy weight- A diet with high fiber and limited fat content helps maintain your body weight.
  • Reduce inflammation- Plant-based foods are enriched with a broad spectrum of powerful antioxidants that also control inflammation, thus reducing the chances of inflammation related heart disease.

Heart-Healthy Eating

The following tips will help you make wise food choices for better heart health:

  1. Make your plate colorful with veggies and fruits of different colors.
  2. Get soluble fiber from whole grains.
  3. Get your protein from legumes such as beans and lentils. Choose to eat nuts, tofu, and seeds. Fish and seafood are also rich sources of protein. Choose lean meat, poultry, and eggs if you haven’t decided to go vegan.
  4. Drink plenty of water.
  5. Choose to drink unsweetened milk.
  6. Replace your cooking oil with olive and canola oil that are healthier and have less trans-fat. Avoid butter and restrict salad dressings to a minimum.
  7. If you are vegan, choose rice milk, oat milk, or soy milk fortified with calcium as an alternative to dairy.

Think Before You Eat

Heart disease is a common global problem, and several health conditions arise due to unhealthy food choices. Embracing a full plant-based diet might feel intimidating, so begin with a small moderate change in the diet by including the right proportion of plant-based diet and lowering your animal food intake by one to two servings per day. Nutrition does not fail to heal, hence, plant-based nutrition helps improve your heart health and reduce the mortality associated with heart disorders.

With a healthy heart, the beat goes on!

 

About Eugene He

Eugene is the founder of Invity, a clinical naturopath and a nutraceutical formulator. He has spent the past twenty years educating and writing about nutrition, phytotherapy and general wellness. His work has been featured in Forbes, Yahoo, Tatler, CEW, Allure and many other publications around the world.

 

 References

  • Witkamp, R. F., & van Norren, K. (2018). Let thy food be thy medicine….when possible. European journal of pharmacology, 836, 102–114.
  • Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., Garcia-Larsen, V., Steffen, L. M., Coresh, J., & Rebholz, C. M. (2019). Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle-Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(16), e012865.
  • Wozniak, H., Larpin, C., de Mestral, C., Guessous, I., Reny, J. L., & Stringhini, S. (2020). Vegetarian, pescatarian and flexitarian diets: sociodemographic determinants and association with cardiovascular risk factors in a Swiss urban population. The British journal of nutrition, 124(8), 844–852.
  • Watzl B. Anti-inflammatory effects of plant-based foods and of their constituents. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2008 Dec;78(6):293-8.
  • Riccardi, G., Giosuè, A., Calabrese, I., & Vaccaro, O. (2021). Dietary recommendations for prevention of atherosclerosis. Cardiovascular research, cvab173. Advance online publication.

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