Can you improve heart health with a vegan diet? (Plus recipes!)

Long ago in ancient Egypt, a princess named Ahmose Meryet Amon died when she was forty. At the time, little was known about why. But thanks to advances in technology, it was revealed in 2011 that the Egyptian princess was the first known person to die of a condition that still occurs today: heart disease.

When the findings were released, Gregory Thomas, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, said Amon’s life would likely have been extended today due to double bypass surgery, and she would have been advised to eat less fat and exercise more. to move. But while great advances in modern medicine have undoubtedly saved many people from early death from heart disease, it still remains one of the world’s leading causes of death — thousands of years after the first recorded case.

So what causes heart disease? And what can we do to reduce the risk? For example, can a plant-based diet reduce the chance of developing the life-threatening condition? Here, we delve deeper into the answers to these questions, and we’ve also rounded up some heart-healthy recipes.

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Heart disease

Heart disease is a major problem worldwide. At present, approximately 550 million people around the world are living with cardiovascular disease, which is about one in 14. But in the US, where heart disease has been the leading cause of death since the 1950s, the CDC reports that one person has a heart attack every 40 seconds. And in 2020, it was the cause of one in five deaths in the country.

There are different types of heart disease, but most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, also called coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease. It usually occurs when the blood vessels around the heart become clogged with cholesterol, preventing them from sending enough blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart.

What Causes Heart Disease?

According to Yelena Wheeler, MPH, RD, a “multitude of factors” can lead to heart disease. She told VegNews they include things like genetics, environmental stressors, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking. And socioeconomic status and ethnicity also play a role. This is supported by a wide body of research. In the US, for example, a 2018 study suggested that black Americans were 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic white people. This is due to a number of reasons, most of which stem from systemic racism.

Black Americans, for example, are less likely to live in safe, walkable neighborhoods, and this may contribute to lower levels of physical activity. Black Americans also suffer more from poverty, which means that medical care can be difficult to access. In addition, according to McKinsey research, one in five black households in the US live in a food desert, where fresh, affordable and nutritious food is not readily available. This is a big deal given the role a healthy diet can play in lowering the risk of heart disease.



Does diet improve heart health?

The standard American diet is associated with high levels of saturated fat, red meat, processed sugar and salt, all of which can increase the risk of heart disease. But despite this, the diet is still widespread. Research suggests that, despite its link to heart disease, the consumption of, for example, processed meat in the US has not fallen since 2001.

But just as certain foods may increase the risk of heart disease, others may decrease the risk. “Diet is one of the few factors that we have control over that can prevent heart disease,” says Wheeler. “A balanced diet full of complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats, such as a plant-based diet, is essential for heart health.” Again, this is backed by research.

In 2021, two studies suggested that eating a nutritious, plant-based diet may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease for both young and old adults. The researchers found that those who ate a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet were 52 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

“Plant-based diets are essential for heart health because they contain no dietary cholesterol, generous amounts of fiber and micronutrients, and very little saturated fat,” adds Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RD, LDN.

How to improve heart health

Several lifestyle changes can help improve heart health. For example, giving up smoking, exercising more and drinking less alcohol are all important factors. But eating fewer unhealthy processed foods, such as bacon and cheese, and more healthy, plant-based foods is also beneficial. “Increase consumption of plant foods high in fiber and healthy fats, such as avocados, artichokes, pistachios, and legumes,” recommends Wheeler.

“The balance of fiber and healthy fats is vital for weight maintenance, digestive health, blood sugar control, lower cholesterol and prevention of atherosclerosis [the build-up of fats and other substances in artery walls],” she adds. And Kitchens agrees. “Foods higher in cholesterol and saturated fat, such as meat, cheese, and eggs, cause plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease,” she notes.

Heart-healthy vegan recipes

Kitchens notes that it’s important to work closely with your healthcare provider before making drastic changes to your diet, such as switching to a plant-based lifestyle. This is so they can “monitor your labs and manage your meds” if needed.

But if you want to try heart-healthy dishes in the meantime, here are a few tasty recipes to try.

VegNews.WarmLentilSaladJean-Philippe Cyr

1 Vegan salad with warm lentils, sweet potato and arugula

Sweet potatoes (which are rich in potassium and fiber), lentils (which are also rich in potassium and fiber, as well as folate), and arugula (which contain calcium and magnesium), are three super heart-healthy ingredients. But just because they’re good for you doesn’t mean they have to taste bland. Throw them together in this delicious warm salad and finish with a spicy homemade dressing.
Download the recipe

VegNews.SweetPotatoChili.HannahKaminskyHannah Kaminski

2 Sweet Potato Chili

Sweet potatoes are a great (and delicious) heart-healthy ingredient, and that’s largely due to their soluble fiber content, which may actually lower cholesterol levels. There are many ways to enjoy sweet potatoes. But chili may be one of the best. For a warming and flavorful weeknight dinner, mix them together with other nutritious ingredients like onions, peppers, and kidney beans.
Download the recipe

VegNews.ButternutSoupsMia Syn

3 Pumpkinsoup

Like sweet potatoes, butternut squash is also rich in potassium, which can help control blood pressure. It’s also simply delicious, and when blended gives soups a creamy, velvety texture, ideal for cold winter evenings.
Download the recipe

VegNews.FirecrackerTofuBroccoliniBri Beaudoin

4 Firecracker Tofu With Broccolini And Chili Garlic Oil

Tofu is another plant-based ingredient associated with good heart health. In fact, in 2020, a study suggested that people who eat one serving of tofu a week, which contains a heart-healthy compound called isoflavone, have an 18 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who eat it less than once a month. Tofu is also a versatile ingredient for cooking as it efficiently absorbs the flavors of herbs or spices. If you like a little spice every now and then, try this stunner tofu served with chilli garlic oil and vitamin-rich broccolini.
Download the recipe

VegNews.ChickpeaBurgers (1)Nadine Horn & Jörg Mayer

5 Quinoa and chickpea burgers

Both quinoa and chickpeas are rich in antioxidants, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. And when combined with other nutritious ingredients like chia seeds, onions, and mushrooms, they can also make a tasty hamburger patty ideal for throwing on the grill.
Download the recipe

Learn more about heart health

If you want to learn more about heart health and the role a plant-based diet can play in maintaining it, there are many resources available.

For example, the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program was created by Dean Ornish, MD, who is also the founder of the Preventive Medician Research Institute. The program, which claims to be the “only program scientifically proven to reverse heart disease,” is available online and has been voted the number one diet for heart health every year since 2011 by U.S. News. Ornish has also released a book called Undo it!which aims to explain the impact that simple lifestyle changes can have when it comes to managing and reversing chronic disease.

How not to die a book written by Michael Greger, MD, also covers the link between plant-based diets and heart health, as does Greger’s website, Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Disease Reversal Program, has also written a book called Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven Diet-Based Cure.

For more information on heart disease, read: