Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) is caused by the narrowing of the arteries of the heart. When narrowed, the arteries are unable to carry adequate blood and oxygen to the heart muscles. This may ultimately lead to a heart attack.1
Diet is an important consideration in IHD, as food has a direct connection with several risk factors for IHD. The best preventive measure would be to watch what you eat.2 This article will help you understand the importance of a vegan diet in IHD.
What is ischaemic heart disease?
IHD is also known as coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. It is caused by the accumulation of a waxy material called plaque on the walls of the coronary artery.3 The accumulated plaques can partially or entirely block the flow of the blood in the heart by narrowing the arteries (called atherosclerosis). This cuts the oxygen supply to the heart muscles and damages the heart cells.2,3 Many people with IHD do not have any symptoms until they get a heart attack or a sudden cardiac arrest.3
What type of diet increases the risk of ischaemic heart disease?
Studies have shown that trans-fat and saturated fats increase blood cholesterol, especially the LDL or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and increase the risk of a heart attack.2 High levels of LDL in the blood can increase the deposition of plaque in the arteries. Animal products such as red meat, animal fat, butter, full cream dairy foods and processed foods such as biscuits and pastries are major sources of trans- and saturated fats.2
What is a vegan diet?
Vegan diet has become popular in recent times. It is a special type of vegetarian diet in which an individual avoids meat, poultry, dairy, fish and animal products. People who choose a vegan diet also do not eat honey, gelatine, food colours and some forms of alcohol.4 Vegan diet is essentially a plant-based diet. Plant proteins derived from tofu, legumes, nuts and chickpeas can be substituted for proteins derived from animals.4 You may choose olive oil for cooking, which can be protective against IHD and include fruits and leafy vegetables in your diet as part of a vegan diet.5 You may substitute milk products with soy, rice or oat milk as rich sources of calcium.6
But something to remember is that poorly planned vegan diets can lack many essential vitamins and minerals needed to keep the body functioning well. So it is important to have your doctor and nutritionist help guide you with your diet.
What is the association between a vegan diet and IHD?
Scientists have conducted many studies to find an association between the type of diet and risk of IHD. One such study showed that a plant-based diet, as compared to a heavily meat based diet, may help with regression of atherosclerosis, decrease in IHD events and decrease in mortality.7,8 Evidence suggests that people who eat a plant based diet produce lower levels of certain harmful chemicals in their body compared to non-vegetarians. These chemicals are predictors of IHD and are mainly obtained from the metabolism of nutrients from meats.8 A plant-based diet is low in fat, cholesterol, salt, animal products and sugar.8 Furthermore, a vegan or vegetarian diet results in less oxidative stress and micro-inflammation, unlike a meat-centric diet. Therefore, it reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and thus prevents IHD.8
The observations made in research studies suggest that a vegan diet has many health benefits. A person following a vegan diet shows a significant reduction in atherosclerosis and blood LDL levels, thereby lowering the risk of IHD.8 If your food itself can be your medicine, it can save you the expensive treatments for IHD.8 With a properly planned vegan diet or even increasing the amount of plant based food in your diet, you may get all the essential nutrients in addition to a decreased risk of IHD.6,8
Your heart health is in your hands. Go vegan, help protect your heart!
- American Heart Association. Silent ischemia and ischemic heart disease [Internet]. [updated 2015 Jul 31; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks/silent-ischemia-and-ischemic-heart-disease.
- Better Health Channel. Heart disease and food [Internet]. [updated 2012 Sep; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/heart-disease-and-food.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Ischaemic heart disease [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/ischemic-heart-disease.
- Obesity Medicine Association. The vegan diet [Internet]. [updated 2018 Apr 20; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://obesitymedicine.org/vegan-diet/.
- Viva Health. Mending a broken heart. How a vegan diet prevents and cures heart disease [Internet]. [updated 2017 Mar 22; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.vivahealth.org.uk/healthfeatures/vegan-diet-prevents-and-cures-heart-disease.
- NHS. Vegetarian and vegan diets Q&A – Eat well [Internet]. [updated 2018 Aug 2; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/.
- American Family Physician. Coronary artery disease: how your diet can help. [Internet]. [updated 2003 Apr 15; cited 2019 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0415/p1769.html
- Tuso P, Stoll SR, Li WW, A plant-based diet, atherogenesis, and coronary artery disease prevention. Perm J. 2015 Winter;19(1):62-67.