Follow a Plant-Based Diet to Protect Against Cardiovascular Diseases
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Follow a Plant-Based Diet to Protect Against Cardiovascular Diseases

Dr Uma Malhotra
3 min read

Follow a Plant-Based Diet to Protect Against Cardiovascular Diseases

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When we say ‘we listen to our heart’, we must ask ourselves: Are we actually listening to our heart? Do we really care if our heart is healthy?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) have become a leading killer in all parts of India, including rural areas. A quarter of all death’s attributes to CVD, with ischemic heart disease (heart attack) and stroke being the predominant causes. Particularly alarming is the rapid increase in rates of CVD over the last three decades, the early age of disease onset, and the high case fatality in the Indian population. Notably, the death rate, standardized for age, is even higher than the global average, with the disease affecting Indians about a decade earlier.
  1. Poor nutritional choice leads to CVD
Loss of nutritional food from our diet is a leading cause of CVD in India, as shown by a recent landmark study published in the Lancet Global Health. Other risks in both men and women include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high glucose, and obesity, all of which in turn are also related to dietary consumption. Unfortunately, the prevalence of all these risk factors has increased across India over the last three decades, with obesity having increased in every state of the country.

  1. Fat-rich diet increases CVD rate among Indians


High rates of CVD are observed among Indians and those of Indian descent living abroad. Recent research shows that people of South Asian descent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives) living in the US, have four times the risk of heart disease compared to the general population, and they develop the disease up to a decade earlier. Researchers find a deep connection between CVD and traditional dietary customs (fried snacks, sweetened beverages and high-fat dairy products), as well as those who follow a Western lifestyle (red and processed meat, alcohol, refined carbohydrates). Consumption of red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sweetened beverages and dairy products aggravates the risk of CVD.

  1. Plant-based food for a healthy heart
Plant-based food contributes to a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Plant-based diet by virtue of its low cholesterol, along with high fiber and high antioxidant content also has a positive impact on several risk factors for heart disease: hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are each associated with decreased blood pressure. Such a diet can even reverse or prevent further progression of coronary plaques with consequent improvement in coronary flow reserve. Many physicians across the world now prescribe plant-based diets for both the prevention and treatment of CVD.

  1. Vegan diet contains all nutrients


Plant-based nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits, with added Vitamin B12, indeed meet all our protein, calcium, and vitamin D requirements. Legumes, such as chana dal, mung dal, and chole are great sources of protein. These can be combined with whole grain rotis, quinoa, and brown rice, along with a variety of vegetables and fruit. Cooking oil is a healthier alternative to ghee. For those with an affinity for butter and cheese, they could consider making these from nuts like cashews and almonds. Finally, along with a plant-based diet, we must include a vitamin B12 supplement, easily available at the local chemist shop.

In summary, eating habits and lifestyle play an important role in determining the risk of CVD. A low-fat, whole plant-based diet, combined with regular exercise and refraining from tobacco use, can prevent, delay, and even reverse heart disease and other cardiovascular events.

Dr. Uma Malhotra is the Clinical Associate Professor at The University of Washington and the attending physician at the Virginia Mason Medical Centre in the United States of America. Being a strong advocate for a plant-based diet, she gives talks for both physicians and the public on health benefits of a plant-based diet around the world. Her love for animals is reinforced by her involvement with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), as their ambassador. 

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