Plant-Based Lifestyles: Let’s Fight Heart Disease

Heart disease (cardiovascular disease), despite a wide variety of medical/drug interventions available, is STILL one of the major killers of mankind, caused primarily by a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries. This is known as atherosclerotic plaque. When this plaque accumulates inside the coronary arteries – the blood vessels that crown the heart (hence “coronary”), supplying it with oxygen-rich blood – it causes a hardening of these arteries. This process occurs over decades (starting in childhood), slowly bulging into the space inside the arteries, narrowing the path for blood to flow. The restriction of blood to the heart muscle can lead to chest pain and pressure, known as angina. If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form within the artery. This sudden blockage of blood flow can cause a heart attack, damaging or even killing part of the heart. For some, the decline in heart function takes years, while for others, the very first symptom can cause sudden cardiac death within an hour of this symptom. Atherosclerosis occurs on the inner layer of the arteries and is caused inter alia, by lipid abnormalities, causing vascular inflammation.

Arteriosclerosis, on the other hand, occurs when the middle layer of the artery walls become hardened/calcified, causing the artery wall to lose its pliability and muscle tone, which decreases its strength making it more likely to rupture.  Calcification of the aorta is responsible for many sudden heart deaths in humans.

The main culprit for atherosclerotic plaque build-up is cholesterol, specifically elevated LDL-cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”).  LDL-cholesterol is the vehicle by which cholesterol into the arteries.

Heart disease IS REVERSIBLE!

A famous study conducted by Dean Ornish, Nathan Pritikin and Caldwell Esselstyn Jr took patients with advanced heart disease and put them on the kind of plant-based diet followed by Asian and African populations who did not suffer from heart disease. The goal was to halt the progression of the heart disease. However, incredibly, their patients’ heart disease started to REVERSE! Part of the reversal shown was due to arterial wall healing, and a dissolving of some the plaque. No medication was given, and no surgery was performed.

To drastically lower LDL-cholesterol, one needs to drastically reduce intake of:

  1. Trans fats (found in processed foods, and naturally in meat and dairy);
  2. Saturated fats (found mainly in animal products and junk foods);
  3. To a much lesser extent: dietary cholesterol (found exclusively in animal products).

Further scientific evidence also shows that unsaturated fat (found in avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil) lowers blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides, and reduces heart disease.

In addition, increased intake of fibre found in fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-grains, also brings about a reduction of LDL-cholesterol

As shown by Dr Dean Ornish’s studies, there is absolutely no doubt that a strict vegetarian/vegan diet may reverse heart disease. Yet , further studies, such as the Lyon Diet Heart Study (a report on the 46-month mean follow-up findings on the “Mediterranean-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease”)  show that when the diet is too strict – and fully vegan, compliance tends to be poor especially after 4 years of eating this way.  In contrast, those following a Mediterranean-style Diet had a reduction in heart attacks and deaths by 70%, when compared with a traditional American Heart Association diet. Part of the reason for this, apart from the nutritional advantages, is that this diet is less restrictive and easier to maintain than a vegan diet. The Mediterranean-style diet emphasises fish, poultry, vegetables, beans, olive oil and nuts and includes only minimal amounts of meat, butter and cream, and excludes all refined and processed foods.

GENERAL SOUND DIETARY ADVICE, based on the scientific evidence, is to follow a PLANT-BASED Diet – with a primary focus on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, avocadoes and unprocessed wholegrains – with the occasional inclusion of lean poultry and fish. This will result in favourable long-term outcomes in terms of minimising cardiovascular disease risk factors and/or reversal of existing heart disease.

WHAT IS THE PHYSIOLOGICAL MECHANISM?

How does a diet comprised primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes and other plant-based proteins improve HEART HEALTH? A recent study shows new evidence….

In a recent study published in the American journal of clinical nutrition, in November 2020, plant-based proteins were compared with animal proteins on health factors. The outcome was that among generally healthy adults, contrasting plant with animal intake, while keeping all other dietary components similar, the plant products improved several cardiovascular disease risk factors including trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO: raised serum levels are a risk factor for CVD: shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death). Fasting serum TMAO concentrations were lower overall for plant than for animal intake. In addition, fasting insulin-like growth factor 1, lipids, glucose, insulin, blood pressure and weight were reduced.

Another recent study (Paivarinta E. et al 2020. “Replacing Animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins changes the composition of a whole Nordic diet – a randomized clinical trial in healthy Finnish adults”) confirmed that by eating a PLANT-BASED DIET:

  • Saturated (BAD) fat intake was lower
  • Polyunsaturated (GOOD) fatty acid intake was higher
  • Total and LDL (bad)-cholesterol was lower in the PLANT than in the ANIMAL group
  • Fibre intake was increased
  • Dietary fat quality improved

SPECIFIC PLANT-BASED FOODS GOOD FOR THE HEART

Flaxseeds          

1-2 Tbs daily of ground flaxseeds has been proven to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, control cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels; reduce inflammation, amongst other health benefits.

Daily recommendation: 1 serving per day = 1Tbs ground flaxseeds

Berries

An American Cancer Society study of nearly one hundred thousand men and women found that those who ate the most berries appeared significantly less to die of cardiovascular disease (American J of clinical nutrition: 2012).

Daily recommendation: 1 serving per day = 60g fresh/frozen or 40g dried blackberries / blueberries / cherries / concord grapes / cranberries / goji berries / kumquats / mulberries / raspberries / strawberries

Wholegrains

The dietary fibre and Low GI effect of whole-grains improves heart health significantly.

Beans and Legumes

Rich in:

  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Fibre (heart-protective)
  • Folate (heart protective)
  • potassium

Naturally low in heart-damaging nutrients:

  • saturated fat
  • sodium
  • free of cholesterol, and as such heart protective.

Daily recommendation: 2-3 servings per day

Soya

The Food and Drug Administration (US) have approved a health claim on the association between soya protein and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The FDA concluded that there is enough evidence to demonstrate that soya protein included in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk on CHD by lowering the cholesterol blood levels.

Soy beans are rich in soluble fibre (found in the outer hull):

  • 6g fibre/1 cup cooked soybeans
  • Soluble fibre is proven to assist with lowering of blood cholesterol levels, and controlling of blood glucose (sugar) levels

Soya protein has been shown to assist in lowering blood pressure

Daily recommendation: 1 serving per day = 1/3 cup soy beans / 1 serving Soya Life Premium Porridge

RECIPE OF THE MONTH: TRY SOMETHING NEW!

Rolls with Lentil Stuffing (meat-free bunny chow 😀)

250g brown lentils, rinsed
Salt (taste)
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp olive oil
250g button mushrooms, halved
3Tbs masala
1tsp ground cumin
1 can (400g) tomato and onion mix
Pepper
3Tbs fresh coriander
4 brown bread rolls/seed rolls
Extra coriander to garnish

  1. Cook the lentils. Drain and season with salt.
  2. Fry the onions and garlic in oil. Add the mushrooms and fry until soft. Stir in the masala and cumin.
  3. Add the tomato mix, salt and pepper and cook until the mixture thickens.
  4. Add the lentils and chopped coriander and simmer until warm and fragrant.
  5. Remove one end of each roll and hollow out the roll. Spoon the lentil mixture inside, garnish with extra coriander and serve.

SOYA LIFE PRODUCTS: AN EASY SOLUTION IN A PLANT-BASED EATING PLAN

Tip: have Soya Life Premium Porridge for breakfast: mix with water / soya milk, add 2tsp mixed seeds and ½ cup blueberries

In Conclusion

To quote Dr N. Barnard, MD., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2013)

“Plant-based diets are the nutritional equivalent of quitting smoking”