Fatal heart disease is the single largest cause of death in America today. It’s easy to blame this on the fast pace, pressures and tensions of modern life and these factors do play a part in the onset of this medical condition. But what modern research is showing is that diet is a major contributing factor to this problem. Conversely diet also offers a way of reducing the risks. It all depends on what you eat.
Saturated fats and high levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol are major causes of heart problems. The cholesterol and fats form deposits in the arteries and restrict the blood blow, causing the heart to pump harder and thus increasing the strain on it. Like any other muscle, when it is over strained, it gives out. These deposits can also affect the blood flow to the brain, leading to strokes. One of the main causes of high LDL levels is the consumption of meat which is cholesterol rich. Although red meats contain the most cholesterol, even white meats are not completely safe to eat. Animal proteins are the biggest source of cholesterol and saturated fats. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables not only contain plant proteins that have the lowest levels of cholesterol, many of the acids and peptides the vegetables contain actually work to restrict the development of LDL cholesterol. Also, the high fiber that most fruits and vegetables contain means that they enable the digestive system to function most efficiently and this means that a large amount of the toxins in the body are eliminated with the waste. And this does not only apply to toxins recently absorbed into the body. The vegetable compounds have been found to actually reduce the high levels of serum cholesterol and toxins that have accumulated from years of eating meat.
This is not to suggest that vegetarians are immune from heart problems. Heart attacks, atherosclerosis and other problems have many causes. But as the American Medical Association’s Family Health guide says – “Animal fats, especially those in milk, butter, cheese and meat, are highly saturated, and an excess intake of such foods may be partly responsible for the development of atheroma, which causes atherosclerosis.” And there is adequate scientific evidence to prove that those who eat only a vegetarian diet have a lower risk of heart related medical problems than meat eaters.
The Seventh Day Adventists are a Christian sect that follows a philosophy of strict vegetarianism. A study done over a period of 40 years has shown that their risk of contracting heart disease is 50% lower than the general U.S. population.
The Coronary Artery Risk Development in young adults (CARDIA) study examined the impact of a vegetarian diet on people between the ages of 18 and 30. The results were that vegetarians had far better cardio vascular fitness levels and lower risk of heart related problems than those who ate meat regularly.
An 11 year German study found that the mortality rate from heart related problems to be 61% lower among male vegetarians and 44% lower in female vegetarians.
The list of research findings can go on endlessly, and the devoutly carnivorous will always find counter arguments. But the overwhelming evidence shows that vegetarians have a significantly lower risk of heart disease than meat eaters.
The argument that those who play sports regularly tend to be healthier than those who live sedentary lives, and thus have fewer heart problems is true. But what is not correct is the old myth that to live an active, or sporting, lifestyle a person needs to consume animal protein to have the nutritional balance to perform at his or her peak. Proteins and carbohydrates are key ingredients of a sportsman’s diet, but these can be found in adequate amounts in plant proteins. In fact, plant proteins are the best source of the amino acids that are an essential part of meeting the body’s energy needs. Soy protein compares very favorably with animal protein in nutritional value.
However, a vegetarian diet must be balanced and consuming only certain types of vegetables or uncontrolled consumption of unhealthy foods along with a vegetarian diet will not produce the best results in terms of cardiac health. To ensure that you are eating a heart healthy vegetarian diet, keep the following points in mind:
Control you consumption of sweets which are high in calories but of little or no nutritional value
As far as possible, eat only unrefined or whole grains which are rich in fiber
If you eat a lot of cereals, ensure that they are vitamin and iron fortified
Ensure that the fruits and vegetables you eat contain a reasonable amount of vitamins A and C
Use only low fat cheese and low or no fat milk
Eggs are an excellent source of protein but are also very high in cholesterol so limit your consumption to 3 or 4 eggs a week.
As in everything else, balance and moderation are important to a heart healthy vegetarian diet. Keep this in mind and you will be eating food that your heart will thank you for.