What Every Vegetarian Must Know About Heart Health

Melanie McGrice, AdvAPD02/27/19

When you think about an artery-clogging diet, what comes to mind?  You may picture a greasy hamburger with cheese dripping out the sides or maybe fried bacon sizzling in a pan?  So, as a vegetarian, you’ve got nothing to worry about...right?  Wrong.  Although a vegetarian diet tends to be more protective against heart disease compared to a traditional Western diet, some risk factors for heart disease are increased. (1)  So, as a vegetarian, it’s still essential to consider your heart health.

Let’s explore a few ways to show your heart some love this year.

1.       Monitor homocysteine levels – Homocysteine is an amino acid found in your blood stream that increases the risk of heart disease by increasing artery damage. (2) Low levels of vitamin B12 often result in increased levels of homocysteine.  The best sources of vitamin B12 include meat and dairy products, so B12 deficiency is common among vegetarians, especially vegans.  If you don’t consume dairy, eggs or meat, you’ll need foods that are fortified with B12 or a regular vitamin B12 dietary supplement.

2.       Ensure adequate omega-3 intake – Long chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been found to support heart health, yet vegetarian diets typically provide little or no EPA and DHA. (3)  Long chain omega-3s support the heart’s agility to pump blood, as well as increase HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.   Ensure that you are getting enough by consuming omega-3 enriched eggs (if you are an ovo vegetarian), sea vegetables, foods fortified with vegetarian life'sOMEGA or DHA omega-3 supplements that are made from microalgae – the life’sDHA brand.

3.       Limit your intake of treat foods – Just because you don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean that you don’t consume one of the biggest causes of heart disease: junk foods. (4) Potato chips, biscuits, potato cakes, greasy noodles, croissants and doughnuts are packed with bad saturated fat, sugar and salt that can be very tempting when there’s little meat-free options around, and can still increase your risk of having a heart attack.  Don’t use your meat-free diet as an excuse to eat more junk.  Ensure that you are always prepared with nutritious, heart healthy meals and snacks, such as fresh fruit, veggie sticks, edamame beans or wholegrain crackers.

4.       Eat a handful of nuts each day – A study of more than 30,000 Seventh Day Adventists found that those who ate a handful of nuts at least five days each week had almost half the risk of having a heart attack compared to people who consumed nuts less than once each week. (5) Nuts are rich in good unsaturated fats, fiber, arginine and antioxidants.  Try sprinkling them over your breakfast cereal, adding them to a salad, or just enjoying a handful as an afternoon snack.

Don’t stress about how to nourish your heart if you’re a vegetarian. There are numerous heart healthy ways to love your heart and feed it the nutrients it needs for optimal health. Try these Omega-3 Breakfast Cookies for starters!

References

  1. Crowe, Francesca L., et al.: Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 97, Issue 3, 1 March 2013, Pages 597–603, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.044073
  2. Bissoli, L., et al.: Effect of vegetarian diet on homocysteine levels. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.  2002;46(2):73-9.
  3. Bobak, H., Abdullah, S., et al.: Effect of Omega-3 Acid Ethyl Esters on Left Ventricular Remodeling After Acute Myocardial Infarction: The OMEGA-REMODEL Randomized Clinical Trial. Circulation. 2016 Aug 2; 134(5): 378–391.
  4. Bains, A., Rashid, M.A.: Junk food and heart disease: the missing tooth. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2013 Dec: 106(12) 472-473.
  5. Fraser, GE. Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):532S-538S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.3.532s.

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