I like vegan diets because they emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds; for perspective, vegans eat no animal-derived foods at all, unlike vegetarians who may include dairy products or eggs in their diets. In many ways, vegan diets can support heart health, but also can open the door to nutritional deficiencies that actually increase risk of heart disease.
Through a 2015 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers discovered that a vegan diet can help protect against heart disease. Specifically, the researchers found that a vegan diet can decrease C-reactive protein (CRP), a heart health risk factor that the medical world takes note of. The reason the vegan diet helped lower CRP is probably because most of the foods allowed on a vegan diet happen to be anti-inflammatory.
In two cases in my practice, however, I have seen vegan devotees present with heart disease and breast cancer. Why was this? In both patients, their co-enzyme Q10 levels were in the basement. Co-Q10 can protect against heart disease and breast cancer and is obtained through animal protein and supplements. Vegans don’t get enough of this vital nutrient in their diets. Additionally, vegan diets do not supply enough vitamin B12 – a nutrient necessary for healthy arteries.
My Viewpoint: So where does all this leave us? It’s fine to go vegan; it’s a healthy nutritional protocol – and one that ethically honors animals. The diet supplies plenty of fiber, loads of antioxidants, and healthy fats as long as you eat nuts and seeds.
What This Means to You: If you’re already a vegan or thinking about converting, make sure you’re obtaining protein from legumes, nuts, and seeds when replacing meats. You can get calcium from green leafy vegetables, or calcium-fortified nut milks – without having to eat dairy foods. Eat a variety of foods from the plant kingdom – it’s all about balance.
My Recommendation: Vegans must supplement in the name of heart health to fill in any nutritional gaps. Each day, take CoQ10 (100–200 mg), carnitine (500), omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources (2 grams), alpha lipoic acid (75-150 mg), and a B12 supplement (18 mcg).
- Sutliffe JT, et al. C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complement Ther Med. 2015;23(1):32-7.
- Woo KS, Kwok TC, Celermajer DS. Vegan diet, subnormal vitamin B-12 status and cardiovascular health. Nutrients. 2014;6(8):3259-73.
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