Lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions

omicronA plant-based diet is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body. Plants are rich sources of nutrients, which our bodies need and can help prevent chronic conditions.

According to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center Cardiologist David C. Buck, Jr., DO, FACC, there are heart-health advantages to a plant-based diet. “Eating a nutritious, plant-based diet has been proven to offer cardiovascular benefits including lowering cholesterol levels, helping decrease hypertension, assisting in weight loss, and reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease,” says Dr. Buck.

“A plant-based diet helps prevent damage to the cells in your blood vessels, which can contribute to heart disease and atherosclerosis,” he explains.

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet basically means consuming nutrient-dense, plant-based food — whole foods with minimal processing and minimal oils — and eliminating or reducing animal-based food. In addition to fruits and vegetables, food choices can include nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes.

Plant-based does not necessarily mean vegan or vegetarian; other diets include semi-vegetarian (occasionally meat), pescatarian (occasionally fish) and the Mediterranean diet (plant-based but includes some seafood and meat).

Besides meat, the main foods you should avoid on a plant-based diet include most or all animal products, including eggs and dairy; highly refined sugars; processed vegetable oils; white flour; and genetically modified foods.

Basic plant-based diet tips

  1. Eat more greens – add a variety of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Bibb lettuce, collard greens and Swiss chard to your meal plan and toss them into your salads, soups and casseroles.
  2. Start your day with oatmeal, barley or quinoa, and add some nuts or seeds and fresh fruit.
  3. Build your meal around salads, whole grains and vegetables, and less around meat.
  4. Replace traditional sugar-filled desserts with fresh fruit to satisfy the craving for something sweet.

Heart-healthy fats and benefits

  1. Avocado – improved digestion, reduced depression
  2. Seeds – can lower cholesterol
  3. Nuts – provides heart-healthy fats
  4. Olive Oil – antioxidant-rich, may protect against cellular damage
  5. Flaxseed – rich in Omega 3 fatty acid, high fiber
  6. Beans – source of protein, fiber, iron and vitamins

Prepare a list before heading to the store. “Shop the perimeter of the store, where you will find the fresh, unprocessed foods,” advises Dr. Buck. “You want to eat the greatest number of unprocessed foods, which come from the soil or tree foods.”

Before starting on any diet, Dr. Buck encourages you first to talk to your doctor, who may order a baseline lab workup so you can measure results. Additionally, you might want to consult with a dietitian before starting a new food lifestyle to ensure you are getting the right nutrients in your diet.