Approximately 18 million people die of cardiovascular diseases each year. Worldwide, that accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths.
Not only is it the leading cause of death, but it is also a significant contributor to disability and reduced quality of life.
Around 6.2 million adults in the United States are currently living with heart failure (defined as the inability of your heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs).
Addressing this problem is a significant public health priority, and researchers constantly search for new ways to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. One area of interest showing tremendous potential is the role of diet in heart health.
Your Diet Affects Your Heart Health
The food you eat has a direct impact on your cardiovascular health. Many common foods have been clearly shown to increase the risk of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, arterial damage, insulin resistance, inflammation, and other problems associated with heart disease.
On the other hand, many foods have been shown to improve heart health. These include foods high in antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients that support a healthy cardiovascular system.
While many different diet plans have been demonstrated to improve heart health (for example, the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet), one diet strategy accumulating an abundance of evidence-based support is the plant-based diet.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet prioritizes whole plants—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are common types of plant-based diets, but each different term has a slightly different meaning.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, or fish. But everything else is fine, according to the vegetarian diet.
Vegans do not eat any animal products whatsoever, including eggs, cheese, dairy, and sometimes even honey. Veganism also typically involves a political, ethical, or lifestyle component in addition to the dietary restrictions, meaning they won’t wear leather or use products that were tested on animals.
On the other hand, the plant-based diet focuses on maximizing your intake of whole plant foods while minimizing your intake of animal products and processed foods.
A helpful way to understand the difference between vegetarianism and plant-based is to think of all the foods that are not exactly meats or produce, such as crackers, chips, cake, and plant-based meat substitutes. Vegetarian diets suggest that these foods are ok because they are not meat. But the plant-based diet recommends that you skip these foods because they are not plants.
The plant-based diet can also be slightly more flexible. You may not need to commit to never eating non-plant-based foods ever again. The plant-based strategy aims to prioritize fruits and vegetables first and foremost and save the meats and sweets for a rare and special occasions.
Why Plant-Based Diets Help Your Heart Health
Plant-based eating patterns have been consistently proven to reduce the risks associated with: