Nutrition

Plant-based food choices help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease

Last updated: Mar 01, 2017

A delicious way to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke is to include more foods from plants in your meals and snacks. Fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are important sources of fiber and a wide variety of minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals that promote good health. These foods are also low in saturated fat and sodium, and contain no added sugar that promote cardiovascular disease.1

Why consume more foods from plants?

The Lifestyle Heart Trial found that 82% of people diagnosed with heart disease who followed a plant-based eating plan had decreased amounts of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. 91% experienced fewer angina episodes. The study also showed a 37% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that is similar to results achieved with lipid-lowering medications. LDL is one of the markers of cardiovascular disease, and lowering LDL levels is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk.1 Research from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study that followed almost 500,000 people for 12 years, found that consuming 70% or more of foods from plant sources led to a 20% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to consuming <45% of plant foods.2

People who eat more foods from plants and fewer animal products such as meat, chicken, and cheese tend to have lower levels of obesity and lower blood pressure. Because foods from plants are good sources of fiber and a variety of phytonutrients, consuming more plants and less animal foods reduces levels of inflammation within the body. Higher levels of inflammation are potential causes of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.1

Use the 15 simple ways to eat less animal foods and increase plant foods. Try 1 or 2 strategies each week, and you’ll gradually find delicious ways to improve your health.

  1. Fill 75% of your plate at lunch and dinner with vegetables, fruit and whole grains so that the bulk of your meal contains foods from plants. Choose fish, lean chicken, pork, or beef for the remaining 25% of your plate, or enjoy a vegetarian meal with plant-based protein from legumes or soy foods like tofu or tempeh.
  2. Enjoy casseroles or stir-fries where chicken, beef or pork are no more than 25% of the total foods in the recipe. Include a variety of vegetables and incorporate whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta into the recipe.
  3. Instead of a deli-meat sandwich, enjoy peanut butter or almond butter on whole grain bread. Add sliced banana or berries for more nutrition from plant-based foods.
  4. Replace half of the ground beef in chili or spaghetti sauce with legumes such as black beans, lentils, or pinto beans. Or replace 100% of the ground beef with textured vegetable protein made from soy.
  5. Use a spiralizer to create ribbons of zucchini, cucumber, or carrots that you can mix into salads or to replace part of the pasta in favorite recipes.
  6. Add vegetables to breakfast by mixing leftover cooked vegetables in scrambled eggs, or making omelets with spinach and tomatoes.
  7. Keep cherry tomatoes and baby carrots on hand for a quick snack.
  8. Start with one meat-free dinner per week, experimenting with meals such as a bean burrito, stir-fry with tofu, or lentil soup.
  9. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter and cookies and candy on the top shelf of a cabinet to encourage enjoying more fruit.
  10. Choose walnuts, almonds or pistachios instead of snack crackers.
  11. Spread hummus on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise.
  12. Enjoy whole grain toast topped with slices of avocado and tomato for a plant-based snack.
  13. Try cooking vegetables in different ways:  grill sweet corn, roast Brussels sprouts in the oven, or stir-fry chopped cabbage.
  14. Enjoy a veggie burger made from legumes and vegetables instead of a hamburger.
  15. Pump up the nutrition value of side dishes by adding lentils and peas to brown rice; or mix quinoa, sliced cucumbers, chopped green pepper and diced onion; or expand on a traditional 3-bean salad with chopped tomato, roasted Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

References:

  1. Tuso P, Stoll SR, Li WW. A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention. The Permanente Journal. 2015;19(1):62-67. doi:10.7812/TPP/14-036.
  2. American Heart Association. Semi-veggie diet effectively lowers heart disease, stroke risk. http://newsroom.heart.org/news/semi-veggie-diet-effectively-lowers-heart-disease-stroke-risk  Posted 3-2-2015. Accessed 2-23-2017.

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