There are many healthy eating trends these days, but one in particular offers a variety of possible benefits for your heart health: a plant-based diet. Plants are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, and they're low in calories and fat. There are many plant-based protein options that can help round out your nutrition needs so you won't even miss meat.
If you're thinking of making the switch, you should first understand the ways in which a plant-based diet benefits your health.
What is a plant-based diet?
There is no standard definition of what constitutes a plant-based diet. It's simply a dietary pattern that focuses primarily on foods from plants. A typical plant-based diet would include fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, beans and plant-based oils. It might exclude meat or animal products, but it might not. A plant-based diet is more about the foods eaten than the foods excluded.
Vegan or a vegetarian eating plans are plant-based, but they're not the only ones. The Mediterranean diet, according to the American Heart Association, has a foundation of plant-based foods but also includes fish, dairy and poultry. Another version of a plant-based diet is the flexitarian diet, which focuses on increasing plant-based protein. Neither of these diets is considered vegan or vegetarian, but still would be considered plant-based.
The bottom line is that a plant-based diet can be whatever works best for you, your goals and your lifestyle. Simply eating more plants can provide plenty of health benefits, especially for your heart.
Plant-based diet benefits for the heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States. The American Heart Association estimates that cardiovascular disease accounts for one of every three deaths in the U.S. A diet high in fat, sugar and salt has been linked to an increased risk of high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Adopting a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and associated risk factors, the Mayo Clinic reports. Most plant-based foods, in their natural state, are low in saturated fat. In addition many plant foods are sources of healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
People who eat a plant-based diet might have an overall lower risk of all inflammation-related diseases, including heart disease, because plants are high in powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. According to the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, including polyphenols in a diet helps to reduce the risks for hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
What about protein?
Because most animal-based proteins are complete sources of protein (meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids), many people are concerned about how to get enough protein while following a plant-based eating plan. Plant-based sources typically do not contain all nine essential amino acids, meaning that eating a combination of protein-containing plant foods is necessary to get a complete protein.
Legumes (e.g., pinto, kidney, black, red and soy beans) are obvious choices when trying to eat more plant-based proteins, but many nuts, grains, seeds and vegetables also contain amino acids. Nutrition shakes are another popular protein source, and while a product like Ensure Plant-Based Protein is a good option if you're looking for a non-dairy alternative, it's important to understand what kind of nutrition it provides. Protein shakes use isolated protein ingredients, so while they can help complement a plat-based diet, they aren't a replacement for meals or whole protein foods.
Tips for adopting a plant-based diet
A plant-based diet doesn't need to be complicated. Here are a few tips:
- Fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal.
- Snack on whole fruit or nuts.
- Cook with plant-based fats such as olive oil.
- Try new plant-based recipe on Meatless Mondays.
- Look for ways to substitute plant-based protein for meats in your favorite recipes.
A plant-based diet can be a great choice for your heart and overall health. As with any dietary change, speak with your doctor or dietitian first to determine the diet that's best for you. Adopting a plant-based diet is just one way to lower your risk of heart disease — and it can be a tasty one as well.