Heart Health

5 Ways a Plant-Based Diet is Good for Your Heart

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By Deirdre Mattina, M.D.

It seems there’s always a new diet or food trend out there advertising ways to help you lose weight fast, look younger or have more energy. But dieting is more than just what you eat – it is how you live your life.

I view a person’s eating habits as part of their lifestyle which should be maintained forever. It should not be so strict that one feels they are depriving themselves of something they really enjoy, and it should not be too difficult or complicated to maintain.

While vegetarianism has been around for decades, recently, there’s been a new focus and health research on the benefits of plant-based diets. This can be a great way to improve your overall health, but many people looking to eat healthier fall into the trap of being a “junk-food vegetarian.”

Cutting out animal protein can be fine as long as you are making sure to find other healthy sources of protein, not just resorting to eating meatless, processed or pre-packaged foods that are loaded with carbs, added sugars and unnecessary fillers.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based means your meals are centered around fresh produce and whole-grain foods. Instead of animal protein, you can get protein from other plant-based sources such as:

  • Vegetables (Pay attention to the green, leafy ones especially.)
  • Grains (Think quinoa or rice.)
  • Legumes (Stock up on black beans, soybeans, lentils or chickpeas.)
  • Nuts and seeds (Try raw almonds or chia seeds.)
  • Potatoes (Prepare them in a way that isn’t fried or with tons of butter added.)

Related Topic: 10 Foods That Seem Healthy But Aren’t

Plant Proteins for Your Heart Health

Switching to a diet that is more focused on providing your body with the nutrients it needs can not only help you feel better, but it can be a smart move if you are at a higher risk of heart-related conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart failure or diabetes.

Need more of a reason to consider a plant-based diet for your heart health? Here’s five.

  1. Improves cholesterol. Animal products including meat and dairy are known to have high levels of fatty, bad cholesterol. This can cause build-ups of plaque in the different parts of the heart and blood stream. Plant-based proteins are low in fat, so they don’t add cholesterol to your diet.
  1. Lowers blood pressure. High blood pressure levels cause the heart to work extra hard and blood vessels to be more likely to clot. This can lead to serious health problems such as heart failure or stroke. Following a diet that is low in fat and sodium can not only decrease your cholesterol, but it also lower blood pressure levels.
  1. Decreases inflammation. A diet high in animal proteins increases total body inflammation. Inflammation of your blood vessels can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke by preventing proper blood flow to the heart and brain. A plant-based diet is also particularly helpful in people with chronic inflammatory disorders such as lupus, psoriasis and HIV.
  1. Eliminates added sugars. By switching to a diet of whole grains and plant-based proteins, it decreases your intake of processed foods. These foods tend to have high levels of added sugar. So not only will you be cutting unhealthy foods out of your diet, but it can help to lower your blood sugar levels.
  1. Boosts fiber intake. Added fiber can really help your body process sugars and carbs more efficiently. Fiber is beneficial to heart health because it helps to decrease your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and prevents sugar from being stored as fat around your abdomen.

Trying to start a plant-based diet? Talk with your doctor first to see if this diet is right for you. This diet may be an option for you, but some supplements might be recommended if you have a vitamin deficiency.

If someone is new to the ‘vegetarian game’, I usually start slow and recommend two meat-free days a week and reading resources on plant-based eating. This usually sets the stage for the benefits of this lifestyle to get people ready to more completely embrace the concept of a minimal animal protein diet.

Talk to your doctor about this and other strategies for heart-healthy living. To find a doctor or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

The Henry Ford Women’s Heart Center is designed to provide life-changing support to women with heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors. Learn more about how a comprehensive Lifestyle Enhancement Visit may help you or call (313) 876-4540 to make an appointment.