First launched in 2014, Veganuary had convinced half a million people to adopt plant-based eating by January 2021, almost double the number that had pledged to go vegan for January in 2019.
According to numerous studies, plant-based products are better for the environment because they generate less pollution and require less land and water than animal products. But veganism has also been proven to be better for our health and our hearts in particular, as a new study published in the European Heart Journal shows.
Researchers in Denmark reviewed four decades of data to show that vegetarian and vegan diets cut levels of cholesterol and fats in the blood that increase the risk of heart attacks. Looking at 30 trials published since 1982 that focused on diet and heart health, they found meat-free diets:
- cut bad cholesterol by 10%
- cut total cholesterol by 7%
- cut apolipoprotein B (the main protein in bad cholesterol) by 14%
“That corresponds to a third of the effect of a cholesterol-lowering statin [pill] – so that’s really substantial,” lead author Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt concluded. He estimated that maintaining such a diet for 15 years could cut cardiovascular disease risk by 20%.
Veganism and heart health
A vegan lifestyle can contribute to a healthier heart in several ways, as well as reducing cholesterol and saturated fats:
- Rich in heart-friendly nutrients: a well-balanced vegan diet is abundant in essential nutrients that promote heart health. Key nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and fibre contribute to lower blood pressure and improved overall heart function.
- Omega-3 fatty acids present in plant sources: while omega-3 fatty acids are traditionally associated with fish, vegans can obtain these essential nutrients from plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, lower blood triglyceride levels, and enhance arterial function, all of which are instrumental in preventing heart disease.
- Weight management: maintaining a healthy weight is vital for heart health, and a vegan diet has been proven effective in obesity prevention. The abundance of fibre and nutrient-dense foods in a vegan diet helps individuals feel fuller for longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
- Improved blood sugar control: Type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for heart disease, and a vegan diet can play a crucial role in managing blood sugar levels. Plant-based diets have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
Making healthy choices
However, the experts did warn that meat-free diets are not automatically healthy. The data was based on vegetarian and vegan meals comprising vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses such as chickpeas and wholegrains. Yet, a diet of sweets, crisps and sugary drinks is still technically meat-free.
Furthermore, with the growth in veganism, there has been an increase in the availability of vegan ready meals, which are highly processed with added salt, sugar and fat. A poorly planned vegan diet may not provide enough essential nutrients such as niacin, vitamin D, calcium, selenium or zinc.