Could eating a strict low-fat vegetarian or vegan diet really ‘reverse’ coronary heart disease, and if so should everyone be eating this way?
BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:
The idea that a low-fat vegetarian or vegan diet could ‘reverse’ heart disease has been circulating for more than 20 years. This way of eating has become more popular in the last couple of years. It has lots of benefits, but the truth is more complex than headlines suggest.
A study published in 2014 looked at 198 patients to further investigate whether eating a strict plant-based diet could stop or reverse heart disease. It found of the 177 patients who stuck to the diet, the majority reported a reduction in symptoms and 22 percent had disease reversal confirmed by test results. But that study didn’t just rule out animal products – it also cut out added oils, processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, excess salt, fruit juice, avocado, and nuts. Physical activity was also encouraged and prescribed medication continued.
Should I switch to a plant-based diet?
We do know that a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes plenty of fruit, veg, pulses and fish, and only small amounts of meat, may be easier to follow than a strictly plant-based diet. It’s also linked to lower rates of heart disease than a conventional Western diet.
Remember, a plant-based diet isn’t automatically healthy. Too much-saturated fat, sugar, and salt from any source can harm your health. There is an increasing number of manufactured plant-based snack foods available, from cupcakes and coconut yogurts to vegan burgers, pizzas, and nuggets. It’s still important to read food labels and understand what you are eating.