There are many reasons that people adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. Animal rights, environmental concerns, financial savings and physical appearance are a few. Another common reason is the many health benefits of a plant-based diet.
More specifically, a vegan diet can be extremely beneficial to the heart. By focusing on whole foods rather than processed ingredients, vegans naturally eat in a way that helps to keep the heart healthy. Not only do fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain important vitamins and nutrients, but they are also low in sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats, all of which are known to increase the risk of heart disease.
Because sodium raises blood pressure, it is a major contributor to heart and vascular disease. Unfortunately, the average American eats nearly 1 ½ times the recommended amount of sodium every day. Most of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, so those who eat more whole, fresh foods will naturally consume less sodium than those who eat prepackaged, canned or prepared foods on a regular basis.
A vegan diet is also naturally high in healthy fats, such as those from nuts, seeds, oils and avocado, among others. Despite their high fat content, these foods have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose olive, coconut, sunflower and grapeseed oils over the less-healthy vegetable and canola when possible.
Of course, just because a diet is vegan doesn’t automatically mean that it is healthy. There are plenty of foods that are technically vegan (Oreos are one example), but are highly processed and full of sodium, sugar, trans fats, nitrates and other unhealthy ingredients. Stick to the basics: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, and your heart will thank you.
Photo is courtesy of Darya Pino and is used under a Creative Commons license.