Most people know that cardiovascular disease can run in families -- that if
you have a family history of heart disease, you may be at greater risk for
heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems. But how much does family
history affect your heart health? What parts of the family tree are most
important? And what can you do about it?
On the other hand, the typical meat-based Western diet may increase the risk of heart disease, compared with diets high in fruits and vegetables. One study shows that a Western diet increases a woman's risk of getting heart disease by 46%.
Types of Plant-Based Diets
There are many different types of plant-based diets. The three most common ones are:
Vegan. No meat, eggs, or dairy products are eaten.
Lacto-vegetarian. You don't eat meat or eggs, but dairy products are OK.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. You don't eat meat, but you do eat dairy products and eggs.
Most studies of such diets have been small. So far, it's been difficult for researchers to determine whether the heart benefits seen in these diets are due to the diets or if they are related to other factors, such as weight loss.
But there have been large-scale studies of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which isn't entirely plant-based and has been linked to a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. The Mediterranean diet is higher in fruit and vegetable consumption than the typical American diet and allows small amounts of poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, but almost no red meat.
Plant-Based Diets and Heart Risk Factors
In an analysis published in 2009 in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers reviewed 27 studies on the heart benefits of four different types of plant-based diets:
Primary plant-based (similar to the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, but allows small amounts of lean meat)
Combination diet -- a traditional vegetarian or vegan diet combined with nuts, soy, and/or fiber
The researchers found that people who ate the combination diet decreased their total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol by 20% to 35%.
Those who ate the vegan diet had LDL decreases of 15% to 25%. People who ate the lacto-ovo-vegetarian and primary plant-based diets had significantly smaller decreases: 10% to 15%.
The researchers also noted that plant-based diets are associated with: