Could a vegan diet actually be better for cardiovascular health than a low-sodium diet?
This week, a new New York Times health opinion piece highlighted the fact that there may be little evidence to support low-sodium diets as a preventive measure against poor cardiovascular health—but a recent study is now recognizing the potential prowess of a vegan diet as an agent against heart disease
Findings from the recent study, published in November in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows a plant-based diet to be more effective than a low-sodium diet, which is currently highlighted as part of the American Heart Association’s “heart-healthy” diet recommendations. The major difference between the two diets is the AHA-recommended diet emphasizes lean poultry, fish, and skim or low-fat dairy products along with plant-based foods, while the vegan diet excludes animal products entirely.
The study analyzed 100 participants, mostly a majority of older Caucasian males who had recently experienced a coronary artery bypass prior to the study. Half of the participants were randomly selected to follow a vegan diet for eight weeks, with the other half on the AHA-recommended diet, and everyone completed a 24-hour dietary recall twice a week on random days. Participants were given weekly groceries, a cookbook, and sample menus to keep their daily calorie and macronutrient intake levels comparatively similar.
The AHA reported those who were on the vegan diet achieved better results by the end of the study, as these individuals' inflammation levels were significantly lowered compared to those on the low-sodium diet. Inflammation is closely linked to heart disease, as it can lead to cholesterol-rich plaque buildup in the arteries and blood vessels, thought to be a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.
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The study noted inflammation is caused, in part, by a specific protein: High-Sensitive C-Reactive Protein (also known as hsCRP). HsCRP levels of participants were monitored throughout the eight-week period, with results showing that vegan dieters reduced their levels of hsCRP by an additional 32 percent compared than those who followed the AHA-recommended diet. The study also noted lower hsCRP levels have also shown to help reverse risk and effects for those who already have coronary artery disease.
A vegan diet has also shown to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, overall and female-specific cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis—as more research is conducted to determine what best prevents heart disease, the vegan diet might soon be able to tout heart-healthy claims as well.