How Plant-Based Eating Can Help Your Heart

An assortment of heart-healthy, plant-based foods.

Many recent studies have shown that plant-based eating can boost your heart health. Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and plant-based proteins into your diet is also great for your overall health. Whether you are looking to improve your current heart health, or take preventative measures for the future, read on to learn more about plant-based eating and its many benefits for your heart.

What is a plant-based diet?

Plant-based eating means eating foods that are not derived from animals. A totally plant-based diet would exclude all meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. The good news is you don’t need to eat fully plant-based to enjoy the health benefits of this diet. Some people prefer to eat vegetarian, where they exclude meat from their diet but will eat dairy and eggs. Others just try to eat more plants and less animal products in their day-to-day lives. Sometimes this is called being a “flexitarian.” Either way, plant-based eating means focusing on fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes for your meals and snacks.

What’s the difference between plant-based and vegan?

People who eat totally plant-based and people who are vegan have similar if not identical diets. Plant-based is a description of the foods one eats on this diet, but being “vegan” has different implications. An important part of being vegan for many people is the ethical component. In addition to diet, many vegans will also make lifestyle decisions to avoid using animal products. One example of this is avoiding leather products. In contrast, a plant-based diet focuses on food choices rather than ethical implications.

The benefits of eating plant-based.

Any changes to your diet have a direct impact on your health. For people who eat fully plant-based, or who are incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets, the heart health benefits are plentiful! Below are some of the specific ways that eating a plant-based diet can improve your heart health.

Plant-based eating lowers your blood pressure.

In particular, eating more blueberries, grapes, apples, and pears has been shown to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure puts strain on your arteries, and can eventually limit the amount of blood reaching your heart. This is one of the reasons low blood pressure is key for your heart health.

Plant-based eating helps you maintain a healthy weight.

One of the main reasons a plant-based diet can help you maintain a healthy weight is because plants are full of nutrients and fiber. Fiber helps you feel more full, and nutrient-rich foods mean you’re providing your body with what it needs. Maintaining a healthy body weight is key for your heart health. Whether you’re underweight or overweight, both extremes can affect your heart health and lead to heart disease. 

Plant-based eating reduces inflammation.

Many fruits and vegetables are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This means they help reduce inflammation in your body. Some of the best anti-inflammatory plant-based foods include oranges, lemons, grapefruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach. Because prolonged inflammation can damage your blood vessels and even cause blood clots, it is closely tied to your heart health. Overall, reducing inflammation in your body lowers your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Plant-based eating improves your cholesterol.

At any given time, your body requires “good” cholesterol to create certain cells, vitamins, and hormones. The key for a healthy diet is maintaining a balance that includes enough “good” cholesterol and lessens “bad” cholesterol. Eating a plant-based diet greatly improves cholesterol levels. This is in part because many plant-based foods provide healthy cholesterol. Some of these include spinach, legumes, avocados, and most seeds and nuts. Also, by avoiding foods that typically include saturated fats such as red meat, pork, and butter, you’ll further improve your cholesterol health. To read more about your cholesterol health and how to improve it, read this. 

Plant-based eating lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Research has shown a strong link between plant-based eating and a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. One of the reasons for this is that healthy plant-based foods help you maintain better blood sugar levels. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is key in this context. Because diabetes and high blood pressure are associated, it increases the risk for heart disease. Diabetes can also damage your blood vessels, putting further strain on your heart.

Protein, nutrients, and other considerations.

Eating an array of fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based proteins (such as legumes) is the best way to balance your nutritional needs. When you eat these nutrient-rich foods, especially when you make sure to incorporate variety into your diet, you can meet every nutritional need. However, there are a few vitamins that are rare or more difficult to get when eating plant-based. In this case, there are many supplements available that can fill in the gaps of your diet. Most commonly, vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements are often used to augment a plant-based diet. Speak to your doctor or a registered dietician to find out how best to balance your nutritional needs.

Not everything plant-based is healthy.

One good thing to keep in mind is that not all plant-based foods are healthy. These days, there are many processed plant-based foods that are high in sugar and fat. This is great if you want to go plant-based and don’t want to cut out all sweets and treats from your diet! But keep an eye on ingredients lists of the products you buy. If you load up on processed and unhealthy plant-based foods like this, you won’t reap the same health benefits of a healthier plant-based diet.

How to switch to a plant-based diet.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to switch and go totally plant-based all at once. It’s totally OK to start gradually incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet. Once you feel comfortable in your eating habits and nutrition, you can continue replacing non-plant-based foods with their alternatives. Another tip for beginners of a plant-based diet is to meal plan. This way, your shopping and cooking will be easier, and hopefully less produce will go to waste. If you’re unsure about nutritional balance, speak to your doctor or a registered dietician to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.   

The plant-based life.

Not sure whether incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet will be good for your heart health? There are many benefits of eating more plants, but each person has their own unique needs. Speak to your doctor or a registered dietician to find out what will work best for you.

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