Many studies have suggested that a plant-based diet is beneficial for heart health. Many people believe that they know what diet is best for their heart based on the type of food that they usually eat. While experts agree that a plant-based diet can lower heart disease risk factors, they also caution that what kind of plant-based food a person consumes can make a difference in how much of a benefit they receive from the diet.
Here, we’ll review the evidence for a plant-based diet on heart disease and which types of plant-based foods benefit heart health the most.
The Plant-Based Diet And Heart Disease
The key takeaways from many studies regarding the relation of the plant-based diet and heart disease are as follows.
- A plant-based diet can reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes can reduce the risk of heart disease.
- A plant-based diet can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as the need for blood thinning medications.
- Reducing food sensitivities and increasing the degree of plant-based food intake can raise the level of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood.
- Eating a lot of nuts can also help to lower cholesterol levels.
- A diet rich in antioxidants can help protect the heart and arteries from damage due to free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can lead to cell damage and premature aging.
- A diet rich in vitamins C and E can increase the antioxidant power of the blood, making the arteries and heart healthier.
- All of this evidence indicates that a plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Fruits, Veggies, And Beans
It is well established that fruits, vegetables, and legumes (dried beans and lentils) are important for heart health. These foods provide essential nutrients that the human body needs to function properly. They also contain lots of fiber that aids in keeping the stomach full and the blood sugar level stable.
In one study, participants were divided into two groups. One group followed a diet that was rich in fruits, vegetables, and beans, while the other group followed the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommendations. After two weeks, the group that followed the ADA diet had significantly higher LDL cholesterol levels and higher triglycerides. However, in the group that followed the diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and beans, there was no significant change in these markers of heart disease risk. The results of this study suggest that the ADA diet might not be the best choice for people with diabetes or heart disease. The recommended diet might need to be adjusted to take into account the effect of plant-based foods on cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Vegetarian Diets And Heart Disease
Eating a vegetarian diet is known to be associated with lower heart disease risk factors. This is primarily because most veggie diets are low in saturated fats and high in fiber. Diets rich in plant-based foods tend to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as maintain a healthy weight.
In one study, participants were classified as either a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian based on their answers to a questionnaire. After an overnight fast, the participants’ cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL levels were measured. The results showed that the vegetarian group had lower cholesterol and LDL levels and a higher HDL level than the non-vegetarian group. The study also indicated that the cholesterol-lowering effect of a vegetarian diet was comparable to that of an apple a day.
This study highlights the potential of a vegetarian diet for helping to reduce cholesterol levels and LDL oxidation, while increasing HDL levels. These markers of heart disease risk can be improved by including more vegetables and fruit in the diet. Increasing the intake of whole grains can also help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Type Of Diet Affects Cholesterol And Triglycerides
The type of food that a person eats can affect their cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Cholesterol is found in animal products like meat, fish, and dairy, while triglycerides are found in seeds, nuts, and plant oils. In a study, participants were grouped according to their habitual diets into four different categories:
Each category was assigned a scoring system based on the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidelines. The guidelines advise that adults should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, along with two portions of beans, lentils, or peas. The categories were as follows:
- Healthy: 5
- Vegetarian: 4
- Mixed: 3
- Unhealthy: 1
Participants in the study who followed a vegetarian diet had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who followed an unhealthy diet. This suggests that people with high cholesterol or triglyceride levels might need to change their diet to one that is more favorable to heart health. For example, if you’re following a vegetarian diet and have cholesterol levels that are too high, you might need to incorporate more meat to your diet. Alternatively, if you’re following a vegetarian diet and have triglyceride levels that are too high, you might need to cut back on the fat in your diet.
Nuts And Seeds Can Help To Lower Cholesterol
The results of a large cohort studies suggest that eating nuts can help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In one study, participants were assigned to groups according to their usual diets. One group followed the American Heart Association (AHA) diet, while another group followed the Mediterranean diet. After seven to eight weeks, those on the AHA diet had significantly higher LDL and triglyceride levels than those on the Mediterranean diet. However, those on the AHA diet had significantly lower cholesterol levels than those on the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is typically high in nuts and seeds, fruits, and vegetables, and low in animal products and processed foods. The results of this study suggest that incorporating more nuts and seeds into the diet can help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Furthermore, the study indicated that individuals who followed a diet that was high in nuts and seeds had a lower risk of heart disease than those who followed the AHA diet. This demonstrates that eating nuts can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Role Of Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (like salmon and trout), plant oils (like flax and hemp seeds), and nuts (like walnuts and almonds). Some studies have suggested that individuals who followed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who ate a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to play a role in the health of the heart and blood vessels. In one study, participants were given either fish oil or olive oil, and followed for twelve weeks. After this time, it was found that those who received the fish oil had higher levels of HDL and lower triglyceride and LDL levels than those who received olive oil. The results of this study suggest that including more fish, plant oils, and nuts into your diet can help to improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Based on the evidence presented here, it is clear that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes can help to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels and the risk of heart disease. This makes these foods excellent choices for anyone who wants to maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. People who want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider following a vegetarian diet or increasing their intake of nuts and seeds, as well as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.