Heart Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based diets have experienced exponential growth in their popularity over the past several years. Abiding by a plant-based diet isn’t an entirely new concept, and it is certainly not a fad diet. Although this lifestyle choice has been propelled to its current prevalence with the help of social media and celebrities — notably Miley Cyrus, Joaquin Phoenix, Venus Williams, and Ellen DeGeneres — sticking to a plant-based diet is immensely beneficial for one’s body and overall health. Not only can following a plant-based diet help an individual to lose weight and to lower bad cholesterol, but it is also incredibly advantageous in terms of bettering one’s heart health.

Controlling Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure (as it is more commonly referred to as), can cause significant damage to the heart and kidneys over time. Most patients with high blood pressure typically require medication to help lower their readings. “However, eating a healthy plant-based diet can bring your blood pressure down.. and may even reduce your need for medication.” One study, in particular, concluded a strong relationship between those who regularly ate more fruit and a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure. Specifically, blueberries, raisins, pears, grapes, and apples have all shown to have positive effects on controlling blood pressure. This may very well be due to the fact that fruits and vegetables contain plentiful amounts of potassium, which is very impactful in lowering blood pressure. Consuming more whole grains, and maintaining a healthy body weight are additional perks of plant-based diets that may help to reduce hypertension. Moreover, plant-based foods typically have low sodium and fat contents and often do not contain cholesterol. For these reasons, compared to those who consume animal products, the blood of those who follow a plant-based diet is generally less thick. This causes the blood to be less difficult to pump, in turn, lowering blood pressure.

Lowering Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Individuals that keep to a plant-based diet may also reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, plant-based diets may lower one’s risk of dying as a result of heart disease by as much as 19 percent. Furthermore, eating more fruits and vegetables has been shown to have positive effects on overall heart health. In particular, apples, citrus fruits, pears, and leafy greens can all boost an individual’s heart health. And due to the fact that plant-based diets typically place an importance on the consumption of not only fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains, nuts, healthy oils, and legumes, these diets are rich in nutrients that are beneficial to heart health — specifically fiber, minerals, and vitamins. However, it is imperative to note that not all plant-based products are equal. Individuals are advised to consume processed plant-based foods in moderation, like white bread, white rice, etc. And prioritizing breakfast is still incredibly important, even when following a plant-based diet. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a first meal of the day that is rich in healthy, high-energy nutrients commonly found in plant-based foods can effectively reduce one’s chance of developing atherosclerosis — or the hardening of the arteries as a result of plaque build-up.

Lowering Risk of Chronic Heart Disease

Several studies have discovered a tight-knit link between abiding by a plant-based diet and the prevention or reversal of conditions associated with chronic heart disease, specifically coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. “One large study found that people who ate more vegetables had a smaller risk of chronic heart disease; in fact, the more veggies they ate, the more their risk went down.” Due to the fact that meats and other animal products often contain copious amounts of bad cholesterol and saturated fat, as well as environmental pollutants — all of which can have detrimental effects on the heart, those who do not follow plant-based diets are generally at an increased risk for chronic heart disease. With the ability to minimize inflammation along with the imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals within the body, plant-based foods are extremely beneficial to overall heart health.

Making the Switch to Plant-Based

Transitioning from a diet that includes meat and other animal products to a strict plant-based diet is undoubtedly a rather large undertaking. The average American diet is teeming with carbs, protein, and sugar-heavy foods, and it can be difficult to break away from this pattern. However, with careful planning and motivation, anyone can successfully maintain a healthy, rewarding plant-based diet. Those who follow a plant-based diet generally consume fewer calories and unhealthy food additives, allowing them to eat just about as many fruits and vegetables, as well as a hearty amount of nuts, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and healthy oils, as they might desire to.

Moreover, individuals don’t need to make incredibly dramatic changes to their lifestyle to reap the healthy rewards supplied by plant-based foods. By making the conscious effort to include more healthy, nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc. into one’s everyday diet, avoiding or eliminating unhealthy food choices, and consuming healthier meats in moderation — for example, skinless chicken breast, individuals can still greatly improve their heart health and lower their risk of heart disease. Even making moderate adjustments to one’s everyday food intake can result in enduring favorable heart health outcomes.

But individuals looking to better their diet, whether that means making small adjustments to food intake or initiating a complete dietary overhaul, do not have to do it all on their won. With an immense wealth of knowledge on the multitude of heart health benefits that a plant-based diet can offer to patients, Dr. Beheshtian is an interventional cardiologist who has treated over 1000 patients, in New York and elsewhere. She is extremely well-informed and experienced regarding treatment paths for various types of cases, mild or complex.

Please feel free to contact Avicenna Cardiology’s office with any questions. Schedule a telehealth appointment or come in soon to see Dr. Beheshtian, who will work with you to create a care plan.

About the Author

Azadeh Beheshtian

Azadeh Beheshtian is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She specializes in interventional cardiology and peripheral artery disease, with a focus on women’s heart health.