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Heart Disease Health Center

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Plant-Based Diet for Heart Health

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A plant-based diet can be good for your heart.

If you’re eating mostly or only fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and meat substitutes like soy, you may cut your odds of getting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, compared to a diet that includes a lot more meat.

There are many different types of plant-based diets. The three most common ones are:

  • Vegan: No animal products such as meat, eggs, or dairy products.
  • Lacto-vegetarian: No meat or eggs, but dairy products are OK.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: No meat, but dairy products and eggs are OK.

You can eat a plant-based diet without going completely vegetarian.

Some people call themselves "flexitarians" or "semi-vegetarians," meaning that they occasionally eat meat, poultry, pork, or fish. You might also hear the term "pescatarian," which means they eat a plant-based diet plus fish.

How to Make the Switch

Start eating more fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Depending on how far you want to take it, you can cut back on animal products, or cut them out.

Check with a dietitian to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need. For example, you'll need to take a supplement or look for foods fortified with vitamin B12 if you totally cut out animal products. You'll also want to check on whether you're getting enough iron, calcium, and zinc.

If you decide to swap dairy products for rice milk, nut milk, soy milk, or other plant-based alternatives, check the label to see how much calcium and vitamin D you're getting.

To get enough protein without meat, favor beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa, or tofu.

You'll still need to stick with your doctor's guidelines about fat, calories, sugar, and salt. It's possible to get too much of those whether you eat animal products or not.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on June 03, 2014
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