Should you follow a vegan diet?
There is a growing interest in vegan diet plans for several reasons, including better health. Should you give up all animal foods for the sake of your heart?
There are many types of plant-based diets, but veganism is where you avoid meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. According to a recent study, a plant-only diet provides protection against heart diseasewhich affects nearly 50% of all adults in the United States.
The search pooled the results of 11 high-quality studies called randomized controlled trials. It found that overweight adults with high blood sugar who followed a vegan diet for 12 weeks lost a significant amount of weight. They also had lower blood sugar, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol (the one that leads to clogged arteries), compared to those on a normal diet.
Although experts don’t fully understand the effects of vegan diets on heart health, vegans may eat fewer calories, which helps with weight control. Maintaining a healthy weight helps control blood pressure and reduces the risk of high blood sugar, both of which can lead to heart disease. The lack of fatty meat and added animal fats in a vegan diet may mean they eat less saturated fat, which helps control total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Vegan diets also tend to be higher in fiber, and some studies show that people who eat more fiber have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Plant foods are also high in polyphenols, compounds that help reduce inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Plus, fresh, lightly processed plant foods are naturally low in sodium and offer minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium that help regulate blood pressure.
However, a vegan diet does not guarantee better heart health. It’s possible to avoid animal foods while eating a diet that’s low in nutrients — like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals — and high in calories and saturated fat. As with any eating style, food choices are important. People who follow a vegan diet but regularly include sugary foods and beverages, refined grains, and unhealthy added fats (like coconut oil) are unlikely to experience the same results as those who consume these foods sparingly.
Following a vegan diet requires planning. You may also need dietary supplements. For example, vitamin B12, which prevents anemia and nerve damage, is found naturally only in foods of animal origin, including eggs, meat and fish. Vegans need vitamin B12 from supplements and fortified foods, such as cereals. Calcium, iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids are other nutrients that are often lacking in vegan diets.
Although a vegan diet shows promise for preventing heart disease, it is possible to follow a heart-healthy, plant-based diet without giving up animal foods. If you’re considering trying a vegan diet or need help with any eating style, work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to customize an eating plan that meets your needs and takes into account of your medical history.
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