One of the biggest threats to living a long and fulfilling life is developing a chronic disease, and heart disease ranks as one of the most deadly. Coronary heart disease (CHD), which is a major cause of death both in the UK and worldwide, can largely be prevented if you eat a heart-healthy diet and a growing body of evidence suggests that following a vegan diet offers protection against cardiovascular complications. Knowing what to eat can sometimes seem overwhelming, however, so to break it down, here are the three healthiest components of a vegan diet.
The heart-healthy benefits of eating nuts is attributed to the fact that they are a good source of unsaturated fat.
Too much saturated fat in your diet can raise LDL cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, warns the NHS.
Swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats, however, can help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Specific nuts such as almonds, brazils and peanuts are a good source of monounsaturated fats – a type of unsaturated fat that helps protect your heart by maintaining levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove other harmful forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream and higher levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Numerous studies have shown that including a variety of seeds in your diet can help protect against mechanisms in the body that could lead to heart disease.
Research shows that flax seeds, for example, contain a number of different polyphenols, especially lignans, which act as important antioxidants in the body.
Polyphenols are micronutrients that you get through certain plant-based foods and by acting as an antioxidant, they can protect against processes that lead to heart disease.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces.
Antioxidants are thought to prevent the changes that turn cholesterol molecules in the blood into substances that can form plaques in artery walls, a process that blocks blood flow and heightens the risk of developing heart disease.
One large study combined the results of 28 others, finding that consuming flaxseeds reduced levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by an average of 10 mmol/l.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood that can lead to heart disease if not kept under control.
Flaxseeds may also help reduce blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease. An analysis of 11 studies found that flaxseeds could reduce blood pressure especially when eaten whole every day for more than 12 weeks.