Colorful vegetables on the counter.
  • By Julie Stefanski
  • In 2021
  • February 10, 2021

Plant-based Diet for Heart Health

By Felicia Porrazza, MDA, RDN, LDN, CPT, NBC-HWC

Did you know that eating a plant-based diet may help to reduce your risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States?

According to the CDC, “Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects the blood flow to the heart.” The narrowing of the arteries or complete blockage of an artery in CAD can lead to a heart attack. [1] 

So, what does a plant-based diet entail?

A plant-based diet is a way of life that can fit within a multitude of eating patterns (including vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, and more). The International Food Information Council Foundation explains that plant-based foods would include, “Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains and the numerous foods that are made using them as ingredients.” [2] PubMed Central further explains that a plant-based diet, “excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.” [3] Though there are variations as to what the true definition of “plant-based” is, consensus is that a plant-based style of eating would emphasize higher consumption of whole plant foods and lowered intakes of animals-based ones.

 

Why Should You Follow a Plant-based Diet?

There are many reasons someone may follow a plant-based diet, these include improved health, promoting animal welfare, and curbing the environmental impact of meat and dairy. An increased intake of plant-based foods has been linked with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension as well as inflammation. [4,5] 

Meta-analyses of observational studies found that plant-based diets were associated with reduced risks of 

Ischemic heart disease, Stroke, High Cholesterol, and Cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. [4,6] This included a lower risk of dying from heart disease and the prevention and reversing of heart disease. In particular, plant-based, vegan diets tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more dietary fiber, which provide cardioprotective effects [4,7] 

Including More Plants Can Be Easy

If you are new to a plant-based style of eating, think about where you might already be eating plant-based. Try starting small and simple. Add plant-based foods like nuts or seeds to oatmeal in the morning, beans or tempeh to a salad at lunch, an extra serving of veggies (like broccoli) at dinner or a fruit-based dessert as a snack. If you are considering a plant-based swap, look to try one swap per week to keep things from becoming overwhelming. Some ideas could be a black bean burger or baked tofu for a sandwich protein source!

It is important to note that a plant-based diet is not an all-or-nothing program. Instead, it’s a way of life that is tailored to each individual. A key point is to keep meals balanced to ensure you are satiated, have adequate energy, and meet all nutrient needs. Overall, the key is to focus on eating a well-balanced style of eating that fits with your lifestyle, culture, and wellness goals.

Dietitian Felecia PorrazzaFelicia Porrazza, MDA, RDN, LDN, CPT, NBC-HWC is a registered and licensed dietitian with a masters degree in dietetics administration, an ACSM certified personal trainer, National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach, college nutrition faculty instructor, and owner of Porrazza Nutrition LLC and My RD Journey. Within her private practice, Porrazza Nutrition LLC, she works one-on-one with clients to create realistic wellness solutions that will build a foundation of healthy eating and exercise habits. @MyRD Journey was started in 2013 as a way to demystify the field of dietetics. Felicia is currently a mentor for fellow Dietitians starting their own private practice and has previously been a dietetic internship preceptor for RDs-to-be.

Sources for Information

[1] Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm. Published January 11, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2021. 

[2] Pike, A., 2020. What Does Eating A “Plant-Based Diet” Mean? — International Food Information Council. [online] International Food Information Council. 

[3] Ostfeld, R., 2020. Definition Of A Plant-Based Diet And Overview Of This Special Issue. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466934/> [Accessed 8 September 2020].

[4] Winston J Craig. Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, May 2009, Pages 1627S–1633S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N

[5] Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All‐Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle‐Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association. August 2019. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865

[6] Ahajournals.org. 2020. Plant‐Based Diets Are Associated With A Lower Risk Of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, And All‐Cause Mortality In A General Population Of Middle‐Aged Adults. [online] Available at: <https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/epub/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865> [Accessed 8 September 2020].

[7] Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. 2020. Plant-Based Diets. [online] Available at: <https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/plant-based-diets> [Accessed 8 September 2020].