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Can a Plant-Based Diet Help Heart Failure?

Plant-based diets have increased in popularity over the past few years. It's hard to miss all the plant-based options when shopping: there is almond, cashew, and oat milk; vegetarian burgers that mimic the taste of real beef burgers; vegan breaded chicken strips; chocolate free of milk; cheese made out of cashews. The options are endless!

Touted benefits

Plant-based diets have been touted to help with various ailments, including weight loss, acne, diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer. In addition, there is growing talk about the role of diet in reversing heart failure. This brings up an important question: does switching to a plant-based diet help reverse heart failure?

What are plant-based diets?

“Plant-based” is an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of diets. These include:

  • Vegans - no inclusion of any animal products whatsoever. If it has a mother, it’s not part of the diet! Vegans also do not consume eggs, dairy, and honey.
  • Lacto-vegetarians - the only animal product that is consumed are dairy products, but not eggs and meat.
  • Ovo-vegetarians - include eggs, but avoid all other animal products.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians - eat all dairy and eggs, but not seafood, meat, or chicken.

Plant-based diets are rich in potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruit, nuts, and whole grains. As someone who eats a plant-based diet myself, I can confirm that the food options are delicious and plentiful. I never feel deprived!

Effects of plant-based diets

Atherosclerosis

There is evidence that plant-based diets help improve blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and obesity - which we know are all risk factors for heart failure.1 Furthermore, these diets can help slow the progression of atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Some studies have even demonstrated that a reversal of atherosclerosis can be achieved!

Cholesterol

This is significant because we know how stubborn this plaque is. Plant-based diets also reduce LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol. That aligns with the fact that there is no cholesterol found in plant foods - only animal products contain cholesterol. A case report has also found that a diet low in animal products can reverse angina without medications or invasive treatments.2

What does the evidence say?

There are a few clinical studies conducted that examined the effects of plant-based diets on heart failure. One of these studies assessed whether there would be an improvement in ejection fraction (EF) in people with an original EF of 35%. After 60 days following a no-animal product diet strictly, the participants:3

  • Improved their ejection fraction to 50% from 35%
  • Improved their exercise tolerance
  • Lowered total cholesterol by 32%
  • Lowered triglycerides by 14%
  • Decreased LDL cholesterol by 36%

Should I adopt a plant-based diet?

The short answer is: it depends! A lot of the improvements seen from plant-based diets come from reducing the intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods. With all the vegan options out there these days, there is still potential that a plant-based diet can be filled with processed foods, and therefore unhealthy. What we know for sure is that a diet low in processed foods is one of the best lifestyle interventions that we can all make.

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