Vegan diet more beneficial to heart health than AHA recommended diet

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10 Dec 2018 --- A comparative study by the American Heart Association (AHA) has shown that a vegan diet is more effective in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease than the AHA recommended diet.

The researchers assigned a randomized group of 100 people either a vegan diet or the AHA recommended diet plan, which includes fish, fewer servings of other animal protein and low or no-fat dairy, for the duration of eight weeks. 

The results showed lower levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein – a marker for inflammation – in the vegan diet group compared to the AHA diet group. Based on this, the researchers conclude that a vegan diet may help reduce the risk of heart-related diseases.

Vegan eating patterns have emerged from a relative niche position to one gaining increasing attention among consumers, the media and the food and beverage industry. New food and beverage launches with a vegan positioning found an average annual growth rate of +44.8 percent globally (CAGR ‘13-’17) when 2013 is used as a base of 100, an Innova Market Insights analysis has shown.

To further explain the results, patients suffering from heart disease may benefit from a plant-based, vegan diet as it reduces the high‐sensitivity C‐reactive protein – a key player in the development of major adverse cardiovascular events – though it does not help with weight loss, glycemic control or dyslipidemia more than the AHA recommended diet, according to the study. 

Plant-based benefits?

Plant-based diets are gaining in popularity and feature a number of benefits according to its proponents.

“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claims that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes,” says Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT and author of Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot's Guide) Second Edition.

Being environmentally conscious or having food sensitivities are not the only reasons people are shifting towards vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets. More than being just a trend, diets with reduced meat consumption have been touted as boasting a number of health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart-related diseases and reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, as well as promoting weight loss. 

“Importantly, it is likely that the very nutrients vegan diets happen to be limited in may be – at least in part – what makes it so successful at reducing the risk of age-related chronic diseases. For example, saturated fat, excessive essential amino acids and heme iron have been associated with increased disease risk and are found in higher doses in animal products,” adds Hever.

Almost 6 percent of global food and beverage launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of September 2018 used vegan-friendly positionings, up from just 1.4 percent five years previously. Even in the relatively developed US market, share has more than doubled from 3.4 percent to 8 percent over the same period, while in the UK it is up from less than 5 percent to 13.5 percent.

According to the Vegan Society, if the world went vegan, it could save eight million human lives by 2050 due to the diet’s link to better health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of US$1.5 trillion. 

Despite the many touted benefits, some caution that vegan diets should include vitamin supplementation to cover the limits posed by the absence of animal products. Some of the nutrients that should be supplemented include vitamins B12 and K2, iodine, zinc and long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). 

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