It's commonly known that following a diet high in plants is beneficial to overall health, and reduces the risk of developing dangerous heart diseases. However, many health-conscious eaters wonder if simply opting for more green is enough.
If a plant- based diet is good, is a plant- only diet even better? Would we and our cardiovascular systems be better served by following a strict vegetarian or even stricter vegan diet?
Not necessarily, said Dr. Syed Naqvi, a cardiologist at HealthAlliance Hospital: Broadway Campus and MidHudson Regional Hospital, both members of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. Naqvi said the problem with a vegan diet is that it can be difficult to adhere to. “The vegan diet lacks some important nutrients, such as those found in animal products. Vitamin B12, for example, is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia, and it is critical for brain health, but most plant-based foods lack this important vitamin.”
Other critical nutrients that are less abundant in a strict, plant-only diet include: iron, an important component of red blood cells; zinc, which helps with cell division and the creation of proteins; and omega-3 fatty acids, which have a proven track record of keeping the heart and other organ systems healthy. While all of these may be added through supplements, they are never quite as effective as when they are delivered as natural nutrients from whole foods.
Naqvi is a firm proponent of the Mediterranean-style diet. “It is not a completely vegetarian or vegan diet,” he said. “It favors fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, and some fish, and it limits, but does not eliminate, meat, dairy products and sweets. Unlike some other eating plans, the Mediterranean diet includes more calories from healthy, plant-based fats, like nuts and olive oil. And, it allows for moderate consumption of wine, especially red wine, which helps in increasing good cholesterol [HDLs].”
To learn more about how the Mediterranean-style diet can help increase overall health, continue reading via Advancing Care in the Hudson Valley.