Are you giving your heart enough love?
Heart disease is a major health issue in the United States. Hundreds of millions of prescriptions are written each year for meds to control cholesterol and blood pressure issues. And lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, poor health choices, and being sedentary, often contribute to heart conditions.
The American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet and lifestyle as your best weapons in the fight against heart disease.
“Nutrient-rich foods have minerals, protein, whole grains and other nutrients but are lower in calories. They may help you control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.” - American Heart Association
Want to start eating for a healthy heart? Here’s how a plant-based diet can give your heart the love it deserves.
What is a Plant Based Diet, Anyway?
A plant-based diet is a whole-food approach to eating that is centered around whole, unrefined, or minimally refined plants.
In other words, it’s a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. A true plant-based diet excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, eggs, and highly refined foods, including refined sugars, processed foods, oils, and bleached flour.
Sound familiar? It’s pretty much a vegetarian/ vegan approach to eating.
But wait, don’t run for the hills just yet.
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are the result of eating a whole-food diet that is rich in beneficial nutrients such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts and seeds, and the high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in spinach, kale, beets, carrots, blueberries, and other fruits and vegetables. These same plant-foods are a great source of fiber -- which your digestive system will love -- as well as protective phytochemicals and plant protein, as well.
But, most importantly, a plant-based diet is one your heart will adore. Here’s why.
How Does a Plant-Based Diet Help Heart Health?
The Standard American Diet (SAD) full of processed food, refined oils, and excess sugars has been linked to elevated cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown that diet can lower LDL and overall cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
A plant based diet does not have to be low in fat to help heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fats, like those found in walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and avocados, should be a part of a balanced plant based diet.
In one study conducted at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, participants with moderately elevated cholesterol levels were randomly assigned to one of two diets. Those who were assigned a plant based diet, rich in fiber, phytochemicals, and nutrients, reduced their total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels significantly more than participants who ate a low-fat diet.
Plant foods are rich in fiber, which has also been shown in studies to have a positive effect on cholesterol. Soluble fiber, found in foods like oats, blueberries, and apples, has been associated with decreases in LDL and total cholesterol levels.
How to Eat More Plant Foods
If the thought of embracing a plant-based diet leaves you feeling a little anxious, don’t worry. You can reap many of the benefits of a plant-based diet without fully converting to veganism overnight. But if you’ve read this far, it means you’re still willing to entertain a new way of eating to support heart health, and that’s a good thing.
Here are some steps to take to get more plant foods in your diet.
Swap Out Processed Foods for Whole Foods
There’s no doubt about it; the processed foods in your kitchen aren’t going to offer you any health benefits. No matter how many times a box of cereal shouts “heart healthy!” on its packaging, the truth is that whole foods will bring you more nutritional and health benefits than processed food any day.
The next time you want a snack, don’t reach for a cereal bar or granola bar, a cracker, or a cookie from a box in your cupboard -- no matter what health claims are being made on the label.
Instead, swap that processed snack for a whole-food substitute, instead.
- Slice up an apple, banana, or celery and spread with a teaspoon of almond butter.
- Reach for a handful of walnuts or almonds.
- Cut up some carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli and enjoy with a savory cashew-cream dip.
Try a Superfood Smoothie
A great way to increase the amounts of plant foods in your diet is with a superfood smoothie.
- Start with a non-dairy base, such as coconut milk, almond milk, or cashew milk.
- Add fresh or frozen fruit, such as antioxidant-rich blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
- Splash in some fruit or vegetable juice.
- Top with a teaspoon of hemp seed or chia seed to add heart-healthy omega-3s.
- Feeling extra brave/ healthy? Add some greens, like fresh spinach or powdered barley or wheat grass.
Add some ice and give it a whirl in your blender. Enjoy a cool, refreshing, super-powered plant-based meal on the go.
Add More Plants to Your Plate
The easiest way to transition to a plant-based diet? Gradually add more and more plants to your plate as you reduce or remove non-plant foods. Fill up half your plate with vegetables and greens and your heart will definitely be feeling the love.
You may never transition entirely to a plant-based diet. And you don’t have to transform your diet overnight. By replacing the processed foods in your diet with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you can start to experience the benefits that a plant-based diet can offer your heart. Now that’s how you show your heart some real love.