Can a plant-based diet prevent the #1 cause of death?
Seventeen million people will die of a preventable disease this year alone.
Heart disease is the number one killer worldwide of men and women. But, did you know studies show a whole foods, plant-based diet prevents heart disease and can even reverse it?
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of four people in the United States will die of heart disease this year. And, this disease does not discriminate. It’s the leading cause of death of white, black, or Hispanic populations. There is hope, however. By adopting healthier lifestyle choices, and especially by choosing to eat a healthy plant-based or vegan diet, you can potentially live longer with a healthy heart and not be part of the statistics.
Let’s explore what heart disease is, what causes it, and what contributes to it. Then, we’ll review how a plant-based diet helps prevent and reverse heart disease, what to eat for best heart health, and how to add plant-based food options to your diet to help prevent heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, is an illness of the cardiovascular system: the heart, veins, arteries, and capillaries. There are several types of heart disease and conditions. According to Healthline, types of heart disease include:
- Arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a heart rhythm abnormality.
- Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries.
- Cardiomyopathy. This condition causes the heart’s muscles to weaken or harden.
- Congenital heart defects. These are irregularities that are present at birth.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries.
- Heart infections. Sometimes bacteria or viruses cause infections of the heart.
The most common type of heart disease is Coronary Artery Disease or “CAD” for short. CAD occurs when the arteries become clogged with plaque, a substance created by excess cholesterol and other materials. When this happens, it causes the blood supply to the heart to decrease, the heart receives less oxygen and is then forced to work harder. In time, the heart muscle weakens and heart disease follows. CAD is preventable, as is Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries.
What Factors Contribute to Heart Disease and How to Reduce Them?Several factors contribute to heart disease. All of them except “age” are under our control, which is great news! Let’s explore.
Age. The majority of people with coronary heart disease are 65 or older. But, taking good care of your heart is important at ANY age. Adopting measures to take care of your heart while you are young is the best preventive measure you can take.
Smoking. It is well-known that smoking causes lung cancer, asthma, strokes, and diabetes. Did you know it also can cause heart disease? Studies indicate that even smoking one cigarette a day contributes to a higher risk of heart disease. So a decision to quit the smoking habit is a good choice for your heart’s health.
Physical Inactivity. Exercise is great for your heart! Our bodies work better when we move and are not made to endure long hours of sedentary activity. A regular exercise routine will create stronger heart muscles, boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, boost your energy, and lower your heart rate. Studies show if you walk for as little as 30 minutes, three to four times a week, you will improve your heart’s health!
Stress. Stress is a normal part of life and sometimes cannot be avoided. However, stress needs to be reduced or managed for best health, and especially for a healthy heart. Studies show lowering your stress level will reduce high levels of cortisol, decrease blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, all of which contribute to heart disease. Stress has also been demonstrated to cause changes in your body that promote the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
What are the best ways to manage stress levels? Exercise, as mentioned earlier, is important to do every day. Also, build a strong support system, sleep seven to eight hours per night, and do what makes you happy. Laugh a lot. Laughter has been shown to improve the immune system, relieve pain, increase happiness, and improve your mood. And of course, consume a plant-based diet to reduce stress levels. Learn about plant-based foods that help reduce stress.
High Cholesterol. Too much cholesterol causes your body to develop fatty acids in your blood vessels. Once these deposits grow, it makes it difficult for blood to flow to the arteries and atherosclerosis eventually develops. Cholesterol is reduced by eating a plant-based diet and omitting animal-based products.
High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure is a contributing factor in heart attacks and strokes. It damages your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases blood and oxygen flow to your heart and leads to heart disease. Similar to high cholesterol, high blood pressure is reduced by eating a plant-based or vegan diet, participating in regular exercise, eliminating smoking, and reducing stress.
Obesity. Obesity is a high-risk factor for heart disease. Excess fat prevents your blood from carrying nutrients with ease from one organ to another. Your heart then has difficulty pumping blood, so your blood pressure increases. Eventually, your heart muscles wear down and heart disease develops. Reducing your fat intake is vital for a healthy heart and to reduce your chances of getting coronary heart disease. A plant-based diet, low in fat and high in fiber reduces inflammation. And, to drive the point home, exercising and limiting stress will lower obesity levels.
Diet. Food is fuel for the body, so what you eat is very important for a healthy heart. But what type of diet is best to eat? A whole foods, plant-based or vegan diet is the best option for optimal heart health. Let’s review why.
Why is a Plant-Based Diet Best for Optimal Heart Health?
Very little saturated fat is found in a plant-based diet
It is well documented that saturated fat contributes to obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of many kinds of heart disease and stroke. Since animal-based diets are high in saturated fat, reducing meat and dairy and adopting a plant-based diet is key to better heart health.
Cholesterol levels are reduced with a plant-based diet
Soluble fiber, found in abundance in low-fat, plant-based diets, has been shown to help lower low-density lipoprotein, the “bad" LDL cholesterol that contributes to plaque build-up. Studies show plant-based diets reduce cholesterol more effectively than other diets. Other studies demonstrate high-fiber foods may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Blood pressure is reduced with a plant-based diet
High blood pressure is linked to heart disease and can damage your arteries by making them less elastic and restricting the flow of oxygen and blood to your heart. Plant-based diets are low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol, which helps to keep your blood pressure low. Potassium is known to reduce blood pressure also, and vegetables and fruit contain lots of it. Avoiding meat, dairy, and saturated fat reduces your blood’s thickness, thus making it easier for your heart to pump blood.
In some cases, heart disease can be completely reversed. In a study headed by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. published in the Journal of Family Practice, researchers concluded twenty-two percent of subjects saw a complete reversal of CAD (Coronary Heart Disease) after adopting a plant-based diet. Eighty-one percent improved their symptoms and experienced fewer disease-related complications.
Blood sugar levels are reduced with a plant-based diet
Refined sugar found in over-processed food contributes to elevating your blood sugar level. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. Plants naturally contain healthy sugars not found in processed foods.
For a strong, healthy heart eat natural sugars from vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Let’s explore which foods are best for your heart.
What are the Best Plant-Based Foods to Eat to Maintain a Healthy Heart?
The fiber from whole grains helps lower unhealthy cholesterol (LDL), and that is what you want to keep your heart healthy. Add oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, dark breads, and toasted wheat cereals to your diet. Veestro’s Quinoa Bake is an excellent choice.
Lycopene is an antioxidant found in abundance in tomatoes. It plays a role in keeping your body healthy and fighting heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Tomatoes are also rich in minerals and vitamins. Tomatoes can be eaten raw, but if you cook them, the lycopene is made more available for absorption in the body. Not a bad deal, huh?
Tasty and easy to cook, legumes like lentils, peas, and beans help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. Legumes are excellent sources of folate, which helps to keep out damaging aminos of the bloodstream and contains magnesium to help lower blood pressure. Lentils, kidney beans, white beans, red beans, and black beans are all great options to eat. Include them with a healthy plant-based diet and you cannot go wrong. Lentil Meatloaf is packed with protein and heart-healthy approved.
Fruit is abundant in vitamins and should be eaten every day for optimal health. Research suggests that strong antioxidant compounds in apples, for example, may be associated with limiting LDL cholesterol. Oranges contain soluble fiber, which plays a role in blocking cholesterol absorption. The zest of the orange even has protective compounds to prevent clogged arteries. Use orange zest in a smoothie. It will add flavor and you will be getting more heart-disease prevention.
Kale and Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are powerhouse foods! They are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, phytonutrients that improve cardiovascular health. Kale is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and is especially good for your heart. Leafy greens contain protein, so a salad of a variety of greens is always an excellent idea! Give a Kale and Quinoa Salad a shot.
Are you nuts about nuts? You should be! Nuts like almonds, macadamia, peanuts, cashews, or walnuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated fat, which is good for your heart. They also contain vitamin E and fiber. The hiker on the mountain knows what he is doing with a bag of nuts for a quick snack, right?
Love your tea in the morning? You’re in luck! Green tea is high in antioxidants and studies from Harvard show it is associated with lowering the risk of heart disease. So, grab that cup and have at it!
8. Dark Chocolate
Yes, dark chocolate is good for your heart. What great news, right? Like some of the foods above, dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants and minerals. It has been shown to help lower the risk of heart disease, improves brain function, and reduces inflammation. How is that for great health news?
So, there you have it. The best plant-based foods to eat for a healthy heart. But, that is not all. Did you know some herbs and spices are also excellent for your heart?
Add Herbs and Spices for Great Heart Health, TooSeveral herbs and spices are known to contribute to lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure, both of which are vital health benefits for your heart.
Herbs are derived from the fresh part of the plant and spices are removed from the plant’s dry root. Both add flavor to your meals and make your kitchen the envy of your neighbors.
In the past, turmeric was used by Indian medicine for skin disorders, upper respiratory illnesses, joint pain, and to heal the digestive system. Try Veestro’s Golden Chickpea Stew for a taste of turmeric’s healthy healing properties.
Making the Change to a Plant-Based DietAlthough many people have gone plant-based, we know making the change from a meat-based diet to eating only plants can be intimidating, at first. What is the right plant-based diet for you? Adding a few meals per week made of plants, or switching to a vegan diet (no animal products, dairy, eggs, or honey)?
Whatever you decide, know that there is no right or wrong way to make the change, and it does not have to be daunting. A good idea is to start with one meal per day. Choose a plant-based meal like Veestro’s Breakfast Burrito instead of bacon and eggs. Or, try Beluga Lentil Braise for dinner in place of a steak. Replacing meat with legumes as your protein source will do wonders for your health. Whatever you choose, know the more plants you eat, the better for your heart.
Remember, it’s so much easier to make the switch with fully-prepared, healthy plant-based meals. Veestro’s got you covered: no shopping lists, chopping, or clean-up needed! Just tasty, all-organic, no preservative, chef-made meals at your door. Give one of our meals a try and start your journey to a healthier heart today.