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Cardiovascular Benefits of Plant-Based Diets - An Overview

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Plant-based diets, defined as those with a low frequency of animal food consumption, are increasingly being advised for health benefits. Read to know more.

Written by

Dr. Aysha Anwar

Medically reviewed by

Sumiya Sulthana

Published At June 11, 2024
Reviewed AtJune 11, 2024

Introduction

Plant-based diets are a wide range of dietary patterns distinguished by the low frequency with which animal items are consumed. Vegetarian diets are plant-based diets that exclude the consumption of some or all animal products. Vegan diets prohibit the eating of any animal products. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products but not other animal foods, whereas lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products but not other animal foods.

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diets, defined as consuming animal foods infrequently, are increasingly advocated for their health benefits. Numerous studies have demonstrated that plant-based diets, particularly those rich in high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and intermediate risk factors. This review outlines the current research based on the associations with plant-based diets and cardiovascular endpoints, the potential biological mechanisms underlying their health effects, practical recommendations and applications from this research, and future research directions. Healthy plant-based diets should be promoted as an environmentally sustainable dietary choice for better cardiovascular health. Plant-based diets can reduce all-cause mortality and the risk of ischemic heart disease, as well as IHD-related mortality. It can also improve blood pressure and glycemic and lipid control, reducing the need for drugs.

Why Is It Important to Prioritize Plants in Diet?

High levels of poor cholesterol cause fatty deposits to accumulate in blood arteries, potentially leading to heart attacks or strokes. The results of vegetarian and vegan diets:

  • Reduce harmful cholesterol by ten percent.

  • Reduced overall cholesterol by seven percent.

  • Reduce apolipoprotein B (the primary protein in poor cholesterol) by 14 percent.

  • Sugary beverages.

  • One eats a primarily plant-based diet with some chicken and white fish for health.

  • Other meat-based diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are beneficial.

  • The meat was not required, but "the important message is 'plant-based'" because it benefited health and the environment.

  • However, it is important to mention that participants in the experiments were fed "healthy" vegetarian and vegan meals.

  • Vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes like chickpeas, and whole grains are substantially different from sweets, crisps, and fizzy drinks, although they are meatless.

Are Ultra-Processed Vegan Foods Genuinely Healthy?

  • Not all plant-based diets are the same. And diets like "those including refined carbohydrates, processed foods high in salt would still be harmful.

  • Animal-based goods like meat are nutrient-dense and offer additional benefits. Similarly, crop-based diets might be low in key micronutrients; therefore, lowering meat consumption while maintaining a diverse diet benefits health.

  • Postmenopausal women who ate most of these items were 11 percent likely to have cardiovascular disease of any kind and 14 percent less likely to get coronary artery disease, a condition in which plaque builds up in the walls of the vessels leading to the heart. They were 17 percent less likely to suffer heart failure, which occurs when the circulatory system is unable to pump blood precisely as it should. The diet did not appear to influence stroke risk.

Why Should Plant-Based Diets Be Properly Planned?

The researchers also emphasized that certain plant-based diets can cause vitamin and mineral deficits in some persons. "Plant-based diets, like any other diet, If not well planned, could lead to vitamin shortages and if one does not eat a balanced diet, particularly in certain populations such as babies, children, women of childbearing age who are trying to conceive, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, menopausal women, and older adults. One’s nutrient requirements change throughout life and one's diet must be changed accordingly to reach peak health. Plants include fiber and complex carbohydrates that are not found in animal products. Fiber is an essential element with several effects, such as helping to improve digestive health, lowering cholesterol, and keeping one fuller for longer; hence, it helps control weight and manage blood sugars.

What to Avoid and Include in a Healthy Diet?

  • The World Health Organization processed beef causes cancer in humans. Humans are thought to be more likely to develop cancer from red meat.

  • A dose-dependent association is frequently observed. The more meat or animal products one consumes, the greater the risk of developing certain malignancies. Meat reduces tumor suppression and promotes tumor development. That is one of the reasons one wants to reduce meat consumption.

  • Animal products such as red meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb) should be taken in moderation. Highly processed foods and deli meats (frankfurters, salami, chorizo, cabanossi, kransky, corned beef, pepperoni, pastrami, bacon, and ham) should be avoided.

  • The Dietary Guidelines suggest a balanced diet plan prioritizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and fat-free animal items. Protein sources include seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, soy products, seeds, nuts, and legumes. One can create both healthy and unhealthy diets that are vegan or vegetarian.

What Is the Relationship Between a Vegan Diet and Cardiovascular Diseases?

  • Inflammatory response to unhealthy dietary patterns.

  • An unhealthy diet causes chronic inflammation of the vessel walls.

  • The standard diet that has become widely adopted in many countries over the last 40 years is rather unhealthy, containing relatively high amounts of alcohol, processed foods, particularly those with additives, and only a few fruits and vegetables, as well as other meals rich in fiber and prebiotics. A poor diet can alter the structure and function of the gut microbiota, which has been associated with increased gut permeability and epigenetic changes in the immune system.

  • Unregulated alcohol use that stimulates multiple reactions in the body causes chronic inflammation to grow over time rather than resolve. In the stomach, for example, excess alcohol can lead to the proliferation of bacterial waste products, particularly endotoxins, compounds that promote inflammation by activating proteins and immune cells. With increased endotoxin production, the inflammation worsens rather than improves.

  • Trans fats, which boost low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and diminish high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and dietary salt (NaCl) are two other components of a poor diet known to be pro-inflammatory.

Conclusion

Plant-based diets, characterized by varying degrees of animal product restriction, have been related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a better cardiovascular risk profile. Furthermore, various biochemical processes exist by which healthy plant foods may exercise their potential cardioprotective effects. However, there has been much concern about the nutritional sufficiency of vegetarian diets, particularly vegan diets that completely exclude all.

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Sumiya Sulthana
Sumiya Sulthana

Nutritionist

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heart healthplant-based diet
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