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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Linda

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, and elevated cholesterol appears to be a primary cause. A plant-based diet is free of cholesterol and saturated animal fats; a convergence of evidence suggests that a plant-based diet may protect against and help manage and even reverse heart disease. Heart disease has been found to be almost non-existent in populations eating a diet centered around whole plant foods. The arteries of plant-based eaters may have less atherosclerotic plaque than runners and people who follow a low-carb diet.

Unfortunately, with the lack of nutrition education in medical schools and the “sick population” concept that leads nutrition studies to underestimate the role of diet in disease, many doctors may be unaware of the power of nutrition to prevent and treat heart disease. Doctors’ ignorance is an important factor in the lack of information that heart patients receive on dietary interventions. This is changing, however. More doctors than ever before are informing their patients of the cardiovascular benefits of a plant-based diet.

Medicare now reimburses providers for programs that treat heart disease through diet and lifestyle changes. The American Heart Association endorses seven lifestyle goals to combat heart disease. Unfortunately, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are not as strong as they could be about heart-healthy eating, and the U.S. has yet to follow the lead of other countries that have successfully combatted heart disease.

There are certain plant foods which appear to be especially protective against heart disease, especially those high in nitrates, antioxidants, fiber, and potassium. These foods include:

Research shows that, in addition to good dietary choices, exercising 1 hour each day and sleeping 7 hours each night may help prevent heart disease.

While vitamin C supplements and multivitamins may be of little use against heart disease, some supplements, including vitamin A, E, and beta-carotene, may actually introduce risk. Foods and chemicals associated with adverse cardiac consequences include:

Alcohol appears to be protective against heart disease, but is not recommended because it increases the risk of cancer.


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