This Might Be the Best Heart-Healthy Diet—and It’s Not Mediterranean

If you're seriously minding your heart health, get ready to take this off your menu.

Dietstockcreations/ShutterstockIf you have heart disease, and in particular, clogged arteries, you might want to consider giving up meat and dairy. That’s the word from this year’s American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions, where this groundbreaking new study was presented. The study was also published in Contemporary Clinical Trial Communications, an Elsevier Science Direct journal.

The study authors began with the notion that inflammation plays a central role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis (also known as “coronary artery disease” or “CAD”), a form of heart disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries and that can lead to heart attack, stroke, and death. In fact, previous studies indicated that 30 percent of people suffering from CAD have elevated blood levels of an inflammation marker known as High Sensitive C-Reactive Protein (“HSCRP”) and reducing inflammation would improve outcomes in patients with CAD. Previously, the AHA has recommended that patients with CAD adopt a “heart-healthy diet” that is low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits and vegetables on the theory that the heart-healthy diet lowers levels of bad cholesterol, which has an anti-inflammatory effect. However, the researchers, led by Binita Shah, MD and James Slater, MD, both of NYU Langone Health, had a hunch that eliminating animal protein altogether and substituting the existing “heart-healthy diet’ for an antioxidant-rich vegan diet may be even more beneficial for CAD patients. (Learn more about tests that detect silent signs of heart disease.)

For the study, the researchers assigned 100 volunteers (all people with CAD) to participate in eight weeks of either a vegan- or an animal-protein-based diet that conformed with the AHA’s heart-healthy dietary standards. At the end of eight weeks, the people who followed a vegan diet had significantly lower levels of HCRP in their blood. In addition, the volunteers found it easier to adhere to the vegan diet than the existing AHA diet.

Heart diseases are the leading cause of death among Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so although the study was small and preliminary in nature, it shows promising results. Further research is needed to demonstrate whether adopting veganism is effective as a treatment option for CAD patients over the long term. In addition, further research is needed to determine whether the benefits extend to people who have been diagnosed with other types of heart disease or people who have not yet been diagnosed with heart disease.

While we stay tuned for further scientific developments on this front, check out all the other health benefits of a vegan diet.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.