Is a Plant-Based Diet the Answer to Heart Health?
In the search for good heart health, plant-based diets are often touted as the holy grail. But is there any merit to this claim? According to two recent observational studies which looked at the cardiovascular health of people who incorporated more plant-based foods into their diets, one study followed participants for 32 years and found that people with more plant-based diets had lower rates of heart disease. Furthermore, the other study, which focused on women’s health, showed that women in the postmenopausal stage of life with more plant-centered diets also had a reduced risk of heart issues due to a plant-based diet.
In this brief article, our Tampa Bay cardiac specialists, Jesal V. Popat, M.D., FACC, shares what a plant-based diet is and how it can help your heart health.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A whole-food, plant-based diet is centered on whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants. It’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.
Think of this as a diet using primarily food that has not been altered through manufacturing. You can also think of this as the diet you might have if you only shop the outer borders of the grocery store where there is produce and natural foods.
Are All Plants Heart Healthy?
Although a plant-based diet is heart healthy, not all plants are completely heart healthy. For example, you might find that corn is nutritionally empty and calorically high. In general, fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that work to reduce blood pressure and inflammation--- both of which are components of heart disease. A few of the superfoods for heart health include berries, dark leafy greens, and avocados.
What is the Best Diet for Heart Health?
In general, the best diet for heart health is one that reduces the number of processed foods you eat. It is recommended to “shop the outside perimeter of the grocery store” -- meaning that you can find fruits and vegetables and meats along the perimeters of the store, while the boxed processed foods in the aisles in the middle should be avoided. The fewer boxes of dry, room temperature food in your cart the better.
You may find it helpful to incorporate lean protein, such as fish or lean chicken, in addition to the plant-based diet in order to help your protein intake as well. Remember, plant-based isn’t necessarily a vegan or vegetarian diet.
If you would like specific help finding the right diet for your heart health or are looking for a heart specialist in Tampa Bay, contact Dr. Popat to schedule an appointment today.
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