by Tandis Bishop

At the turn of each New Year, many Americans jump on the “self-improvement” wagon. This often entails the hope of getting fit and losing weight because with spring around the corner, the motivation to improve our appearance is very high. But what is often left behind is the hope for something like a healthy heart.

Cardiovascular disease is still the No. 1 killer in America. The majority of these deaths are from coronary heart disease. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is the number one recommendation by physicians to maintain a healthy heart, but many people still do not know what an ideal diet consists of.

According to the American Heart Association, “Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack).” Since most vegetarian diets are low in animal products, they are also usually lower than meat-eating diets in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Vegetarians suffer markedly lower mortality from coronary heart disease compared to non-vegetarians (Key et al (1999). High blood cholesterol is a primary risk factor in heart disease. In addition, studies have shown that vegetarians have significantly lower levels of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol particularly associated with heart disease.

A vegetarian diet is also naturally high in fiber. Fiber has been proven to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood due to its fat-binding abilities. Fatty acids and cholesterol can bind to fiber and are blocked from cell entrance. Thus, fiber-bound fats are typically not absorbed in the small intestine and instead pass into the large intestine (colon) where they will be excreted in the feces or degraded by intestinal bacteria. In addition, like fiber-bound fatty acids, bile acids bound to fiber cannot be reabsorbed and re-circulated. They are also sent to the colon for fecal excretion or degradation, resulting in the use of cholesterol in the body for synthesis of new bile acids. As more cholesterol is used up to make new bile acids, less remains in the blood.

In his best-selling book, “Eat More, Weigh Less”, Dr. Dean Ornish describes how he was able to actually reverse heart disease through a vegetarian diet, exercise, and meditation. Dr. Ornish’s findings were particularly amazing because even the most aggressive medical treatment is generally only able to help stop heart disease from getting worse, not actually reverse damage as Ornish’s treatment did.

Footnotes: 

Down to Earth is here to help you on your track to a healthy heart. We have many heart-friendly vegetarian products in our stores and recipes on our website to assist you in your transition toward a plant-based diet. Check out the Health Tips section on our website for the American Heart Association’s guidelines to a healthy heart.