Boost Heart Health With a Plant-Based Diet
Groundbreaking research shows that a plant-based diet doesn’t just prevent heart disease but that it can manage and sometimes even reverse it.
Plants Protect Your Heart
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. Eating habits and other lifestyle factors play a key role in determining the risk of heart disease.
Pioneering studies by Dean Ornish, MD, Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., MD, and others have shown that a low-fat, plant-based diet, combined with regular exercise and a healthy overall lifestyle, can prevent, delay, and even reverse heart disease and other cardiovascular events.
Dr. Ornish’s landmark study tested the effects of a plant-based diet on participants with moderate to severe heart disease. There were no surgeries or stents—just simple diet and lifestyle changes. Within weeks, 90 percent of chest pain diminished. After just one month, blood flow to the heart improved. After a year, even severely blocked arteries had reopened. At the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Esselstyn tested the same approach on patients with severe heart disease and published similar results. Thirty years later, all of the compliant patients are still thriving.
Plant-based diets benefit heart health because they contain no dietary cholesterol, very little saturated fat, and abundant fiber. Meat, cheese, and eggs, on the other hand, are packed with cholesterol and saturated fat, which cause plaque buildup in the arteries, eventually leading to heart disease.
It is important to continue to work closely with your health care provider to monitor your health and manage medications, even as you make dietary changes.
A plant-based diet can also help improve several risk factors for heart disease:
- High Blood Pressure: A plant-based diet, rich in potassium, improves blood pressure.
- High Cholesterol: Aim for high-fiber foods, which can help lower cholesterol.
- Atherosclerosis: Diets rich in saturated fat and cholesterol cause plaque buildup in the arteries, restricting blood flow.
- Inflammation: Plant-based diets help reduce inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and other conditions.
Meat Can Break Your Heart
Eating foods high in saturated fat, such as meat, raises LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, which increases heart disease risk, and research shows that both red and white meat raise cholesterol levels equally.
The saturated fat in meat isn’t the only factor that increases heart disease risk. A study found that as meat is digested in the intestinal tract, gut microbes produce chemicals that increase the risk for heart disease. Participants who were eating at least one serving of meat every day had a 22% higher risk of heart disease. Iron in meat is also linked to heart disease. In a meta-analysis, heme iron found in meat increased the risk of heart disease by 57%. Conversely, non-heme iron found in vegetables showed no relationship to risk or mortality from heart disease.
If you change your diet, and do it very vigorously, you have enormous power. You can reverse heart disease. You can prevent it.
Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, President, Physicians Committee