Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, and it affects people of all ages and backgrounds. An increasing number of people are living with heart disease and its related risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and diabetes. Can going vegan reverse heart disease and its risk factors?
Adopting a plant-based diet that excludes or limits animal products can reduce cardiovascular risks and help people live healthier lifestyles. In fact, vegans have lower rates of heart disease than any other dietary group.
Read on to learn about the link between a plant-based diet and heart health, how going vegan can reverse heart disease, and if it’s right for you.
Cardiovascular Disease in the United States
The sobering truth about heart health in the U.S.:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 5 deaths in the United States in 2020—about 697,000 people—were from heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women across most racial and ethnic groups.
- The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease (CAD). Over half of heart disease-related deaths are from CAD, and 20 percent of these deaths can happen in adults younger than 65 years old.
- Heart attacks are also widespread in the U.S. with 805,000 people having heart attacks every year.
So, what do you need to do to reduce your risk of heart disease and death?
It’s estimated that we can prevent 90 percent of cardiovascular disease by adopting a healthier lifestyle. This includes following a healthy diet and adopting other healthy habits.
But how can going vegan reverse heart disease and impact heart health? Keep reading to find out!
What Is a Vegan Diet?
With its focus on red and processed meat, sugar-laden drinks, and calorie-rich sauces, western diets put people at risk of developing heart disease.
Besides eating less sodium, getting plenty of fiber, staying as lean as possible, and regularly exercising, there are several diet modifications that may help decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, research shows that adopting a plant-based diet can reverse the effects of heart disease in some patients.
Why can going vegan reverse heart disease? Going vegan is more than just cutting out meat—it’s an ethical diet that abstains from all animal-based foods and products.
What You Can Eat on a Vegan Diet
When following a vegan diet, you eat plant-based foods:
- Organic fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes, which include beans, lentils, and peas
- Dairy alternatives, including almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk
- Seed oils like toasted sesame oil
- Bread, pasta, and rice
What You Can’t Eat on a Vegan Diet
Foods from animals are not part of a vegan diet:
- Red meat such as beef, pork, or lamb
- Poultry such as chicken or turkey
- Fish and shellfish
- Eggs and egg-containing foods such as mayonnaise
- Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream
What’s the Difference Between Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based Diets?
If you’re just starting to look at lifestyle changes to help with heart health, you’ve likely heard a variety of terms to describe different diets. Vegan. Vegetarian. Plant-based.
But what are the differences between them? And can going vegan reverse heart disease more than other types of diets?
Let’s take a quick look at the different diets.
The diets listed below are all ones that focus on including more plant-based foods and exclude foods from animals to varying degrees.
- Vegan: Excludes meat, poultry, seafood, fish, dairy, and eggs.
- Vegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and fish. Includes dairy and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and eggs. Includes dairy.
- Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and dairy. Includes eggs.
- Pescatarian: Excludes meat, and poultry. Includes seafood, fish, dairy, and eggs.
- Flexitarian: Includes dairy, and eggs, and may include infrequent amounts of meat, poultry, seafood, and fish.
But with so many variations on how to eat plant-based, which one has been proven to reduce cardiovascular risks?
Read on to discover the health benefits of a vegan diet and answer the question, “Can going vegan reverse heart disease?”
How Can Going Vegan Reverse Heart Disease?
Research has shown several proven benefits of adopting a vegan diet. Going vegan can reverse heart disease by helping with several risk factors.
Lower Risk of Coronary Heart Disease
How can going vegan reverse heart disease?
Research says that following a plant-based diet significantly reduces a person’s risk of coronary heart disease.
Plant-based diets have been proven to reduce blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. According to recent research, following a vegetarian diet lowered the risk of heart disease between 32 and 52 percent. The higher amount of healthy, plant-based foods and the lower amount of animal products such as eggs and cheese resulted in a greater reduction in heart disease. Not just a way to prevent coronary problems, going vegan can reverse heart disease for some.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains can also help reduce blood pressure. The more plant-based your diet is, the more you can lower your blood pressure. A plant-based diet may also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Can going vegan reverse heart disease more than other diets?
Between groups of vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians, the vegans had the lowest incidence of elevated blood pressure. Additionally, while both vegetarian and vegan diets will improve cholesterol levels, a vegan diet has been shown to lower cholesterol more.
Lose Weight/Lower BMI
Going vegan can reverse heart disease by helping you to lose weight.
Being overweight and having a high BMI has long been known to increase your risk for heart disease. Following a plant-based diet can help you lose weight and lower your BMI.
Eating a plant-based diet that is high in whole foods can help vegans lose weight—sometimes very quickly. The idea is to eat healthy, organic foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains, in their whole and unprocessed forms. Compared to standard Western diets, these foods provide high nutrition and low calories.
A plant-based diet is naturally lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol. It also has higher amounts of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and water. They are nutritionally dense foods that are also lower in calories, which are factors that make a plant-based diet more satisfying and can lead to weight loss.
Losing weight should be a key goal for anyone looking to reverse heart disease.
Recent studies have compared vegan diets to vegetarian or Mediterranean diets. A vegan diet was shown to be slightly more effective than a vegetarian one. When comparing a vegan diet to a Mediterranean diet (a modified pescatarian diet that allows for small amounts of lean meat), the vegan diet was significantly more effective.
Experts believe that a plant-based diet lowers blood pressure, reduces blood sugar levels, and combats inflammation to reduce the risk of heart disease and help you live longer. This can be attributed to the fact that there are no trans fats, cholesterol, or dairy in a vegan diet.
Going vegan can reverse heart disease and lower your chances of dying prematurely.
When compared to meat eaters, vegetarians and pescatarians reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by 34 percent; vegans reduce their risk by 26 percent.
Shifting your eating habits from animal-based protein to plant-based protein can lower your risk of death from any cause by up to 20 percent.
And a long-term study has shown that following a vegetarian diet—including vegan—can increase the average life span of men by 10 years (from 73 years to 83 years) and for women by 6 years (from 79 years to 85 years).
Even small changes matter.
Increasing your total calories from plant protein by just 3 percent reduces your risk of dying by up to 10 percent.
A vegan or plant-based diet filled with organic whole fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy lifestyle can help you maximize your lifespan and significantly improve your quality of life.
Risks of a Vegan Diet
While you’re learning why going vegan can reverse heart disease, you should also be aware of how to meet your nutritional needs while on a vegan diet.
People who follow a vegan diet need to plan carefully to make sure they are getting all the proper nutrition their bodies need.
In particular, without animal-based foods, they may end up lacking calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, Omega-3s, protein, and iodine.
However, by eating a variety of plant-based foods, vegans can keep their nutritional needs in balance. Keep reading for plant-based sources for the following nutrients:
- Calcium: Leafy green vegetables, tofu, tahini, sesame seeds, and dried fruits
- Vitamin D: Sunlight, mushrooms, fortified plant-based milk, tofu, cereals, and vegan vitamin D supplements
- Iron: Nuts, pulses, dried fruits, dark green vegetables, and whole-grains
- Zinc: Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Vitamin B12: Vegan B12 supplements and fortified plant-based milk and cereals
- Omega-3s: Ground flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans, and canola oil
- Protein: Soy products, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lentils
- Iodine: Dried seaweed such as kelp, strawberries, cranberries, green beans, watercress, and iodized salt
How to Go Vegan
Now that you know going vegan can reverse heart disease you may be ready to jump in with both feet.
The best advice, however, is to slow down a minute.
The best way to switch to a vegan diet is to make slow changes rather than trying to cut out all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs all at once.
Going vegan to reduce heart disease might be a big change for some people. For long-term results and the greatest chance of making lasting changes, do some careful planning and make small changes at first.
Gradually cut out the amount of meat in your diet while beginning to increase the number of fruits and vegetables. Begin with one day per week of meatless meals and every few weeks increase that number.
Look for ways to substitute animal-based products with foods you already enjoy. For example, swap out dairy-based cheese for vegan cheese. Or switch the cow’s milk you use for dairy-free milk such as coconut, almond, oat, or soy.
If you slip up and eat an animal-based food, don’t be too hard on yourself. Committing to a vegan diet can take a while, but each day is a new opportunity to make healthy choices.
Can going vegan reverse heart disease? Yes!
With small, gradual changes, you’ll be living a vegan lifestyle before you know it.
Take control of your heart health! In addition to a vegan lifestyle, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart rate naturally.