Can you really prevent heart disease? Studies show that lifestyle habits, specifically diet, can play a huge role in our chances of developing heart disease. And it turns out a plant-based diet is your best bet for heart disease prevention and reversal. But not all plant-based diets are created equally – here's the best plant-based foods to eat for a healthy heart. Plus...which foods to avoid!
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States — responsible for one of every four deaths.
But what is it, exactly? The term heart disease encompasses an array of conditions that attack and damage the heart muscle or the blood vessels that lead to it.
Heart disease is not an inevitable part of aging. While some conditions are present from birth, such as congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease — the most common and deadly type of heart disease— is caused by plaque buildup in our arteries, which blocks blood supply. Healthy lifestyle choices can prevent this buildup from occurring in the first place.
4 Lifestyle Choices to Prevent Heart Disease
- Exercising regularly. You don’t have to become an Olympic athlete! Thirty minutes a day, five days per week of moderate exercise can protect you against heart disease.
- Avoiding tobacco and alcohol.
- Limiting stress and finding ways to relax every day.
- Eating a diet that’s free of saturated and trans-fat, cholesterol, and added sugar, and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
Yep, the foods we eat play a big role in our heart health. Eating foods with too much saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol, like red meat and dairy products, can lead to plaque buildup
The good news? A plant-based diet focused whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains provides zero cholesterol and protects against coronary artery disease!
Plants Slash Heart Failure Risk 42 Percent!
It’s worth noting that cultures that follow a predominantly plant-based diet are virtually free of cardiovascular diseases.
And a study conducted in 2017 by the American Heart Association found that plant-based diets decreased the risk of heart failure by 42 percent among people with no history of heart disease!
Ok, but what about those who already live with coronary heart disease? Can it be reversed with lifestyle changes, too?
A study performed in 2014 put almost two hundred people with cardiovascular disease on a diet free of fish, meat, dairy, and added oils. At the end of the study, twenty-two percent of the people showed a complete reversal of their heart disease, and eighty-one percent improved their symptoms and experienced fewer complications.
While a plant-based diet in general is a heart healthy choice, there are some plant-based foods that are especially good for your heart health.
Oats are effective in lowering LDL cholesterol, the 'bad' cholesterol that plays an important role in heart disease development. Oats are also high in fiber, and low in saturated fat, which is the winning combination when it comes to heart disease prevention.
Berries are rich in anthocyanins, a type of powerful antioxidant that protects against heart disease. In fact, consuming a cup of blueberries per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by fifteen percent.
Beans are high in fiber, protein, and essential minerals that protect against heart disease. They are also low in fat and cholesterol-free. Daily consumption of beans and other legumes help prevent and reverse heart disease. Enjoy beans in your salad at lunch, as a replacement for meat in tacos, or in a hearty vegan chili.
4. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and broccoli, are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are especially rich in folate, a powerful vitamin that is helpful for heart disease prevention. Don't love the taste of leafy greens? No worries — here's some of our favorite (and delicious) ways to sneak more greens into your diet
Garlic is an immunity-boosting superfood and it's a big time player when it comes to heart disease prevention and reversal. Garlic improves cholesterol levels, which lower the risk of heart disease and helps keep blood pressure at normal levels.
Beets help lower blood pressure thanks to their high nitrate concentration. Did you know many athletes regularly drink beet juice to improve their athletic performance? Yep! The nitric oxide in beets can increase blood flow to the heart and other muscles, and improve lung function. Intimidated by making your own beets at home? No worries — let MamaSezz do the work when you order our Strong Heart Beets, pureed beets seasoned with fresh lemon. You can eat them right from the bag, blend them into a smoothie, make oil-free salad dressing, and so much more.
1. Red meat (especially processed meats!)
The keto diet may be all the rage these days but studies show meat, especially red meat and processed meat, can have a negative effect on heart health (not to mention, lead to diabetes, Alzheimer's, kidney disease, and even some types of cancer!). A recent global study showed just 5 ounces of processed meat a week increases the risk for heart disease by 46 percent. (That's just two sausages a week).
2. Refined sugar
Want to cut your risk of heart disease? Cut refined sugar. Most Americans eat way too much refined sugar and it's wreaking havoc on our health, from diabetes and obesity to heart disease and stroke. The good news? You don't have to ditch sweets just because you ditch refined sugars. Here's our top tips for enjoying dessert, no refined sugar necessary.
A hard truth for cheese lovers: dairy is not the health food we were sold on growing up. It’s loaded with saturated fat, a major contributor to heart disease, inflammation of the brain, higher risk of stroke, and impaired memory.
Need help breaking free from dairy? We've got you covered here with our guide to going dairy-free (and never looking back).
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the US, but it doesn't have to be! Coronary heart disease can often be prevented with lifestyle choices, especially diet!
- A plant-based diet is best for heart disease prevention and reversal.
- Some of the top plant-based foods for heart disease prevention include: oats, berries, beans, dark leafy greens, garlic, and beets.
- Some of the worst foods for your heart include red meat (especially processed ones), refined sugars, and dairy.
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.