There is no one diet to prevent or treat cardiovascular disease. Each person will benefit from an individualized approach. But I am asked about vegan vs. whole plant-based diets and wanted to address it here.
A plant-based approach isn’t the only way to achieve heart health but for those who want to cut animal products out this article is relevant.
Veganism is more of a religion than a diet. It’s a way of life for many where their aim is to minimize human and animal suffering.
Vegans also eat a plant-based diet but often have a high-carb and high-fat version. Not always, but easy to overdo it with vegan cheese and fake friend meats.
Most vegan restaurants serve highly processed foods. And vegan items in the grocery store aim to mimic a western diet, so there are a lot of oily and meat-looking items for sale.
Processed food is the enemy of heart health. And so, most vegan options tend to perform poorly regarding cardiovascular health.
Whole Plant-Based Diet
A whole plant-based diet is much more heart-friendly because it focuses on nutrients. Most whole plant-based food options are nutrient-dense and, by definition, not processed.
Hummus – sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, lemon, salt – that’s a whole plant-based food. But the version you buy in the grocery store often has many more processed items. Often, it’s loaded with oil to increase the calorie content.
A white flour tortilla is vegan but not healthy. But a 100% whole wheat tortilla (ground whole wheat grains, water, salt) is relatively healthy.
But grains or gluten-containing products aren’t right for everyone. That’s why I maintain that there is no perfect diet for everyone. It’s per individual.
Inevitably the discussion next goes to olive oil when we compare vegan diets to whole plant-based diets.
The latter has no place for olive oil. But vegan food is often saturated with oils. For some, this isn’t an issue. For many, the extra oil can accelerate atherosclerosis.
Olive oil has some health properties, but like any good thing, it can raise cholesterol levels. This could (not will, but could) increase the risk of plaque deposits on the lining of the arteries.
Heart Healthy Diets
In my practice, we experiment with different foods and have items we cut out right off the bat.
If the cholesterol profile responds well and the inflammatory markers go down, we continue to make small adjustments.
To achieve heart health, I wouldn’t worry about olive oil. I would first worry about a diet with processed food ingredients – many ingredients you can’t pronounce or items you don’t recognize.
Exercise, stress management, minimally processed diet, and insulin management. Those are the most important tenets of achieving good cardiovascular health.
We dive into the diet in much more detail for those who still need tweaking. For one person, there is an absolute need for fish oil. For another, they have to cut out beans because of the inflammation it causes.