Not all vegan or plant-based diets are equally healthy

Vegan Diet Vegetables

By HENA PATEL and KIM ALLAN WILLIAMS, SR

 

Move over, low-fat diets. More and more experts are recommending plant-based diets to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer.

But are all plant-based diets equally beneficial? And must they be all-or-none eating strategies, or is there a role for a semi-vegetarian or “flexitarian” approach?

The term plant-based diet often conjures up images of vegetarian or vegan fare. But it really means a diet that emphasizes foods from plants — vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and the like — not one that necessarily excludes non-plant foods.

The results of studies on the health effects of plant-based diets have varied widely, largely due to how these diets were defined. Some focused on vegetarian or vegan eating habits, others included some foods from animals. Notably, these studies tended to treat all plant foods equally, even though eating certain foods from plants, such as refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages, is associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes or having a heart attack or stroke, while eating whole grains and produce are associated with lower risks.

That’s why we were so interested to see the results of a recently published study performed by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Led by Ambika Satija, the team catalogued the diets of nearly 210,000 nurses and other health professionals based on their answers to food frequency questionnaires every two years for an average of 23 years. From these data, the researchers defined three versions of a plant-based diet: an overall plant-based diet that emphasizes the consumption of all plant foods and reduced the intake of animal foods; a healthful plant-based diet that emphasizes the intake of healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and an unhealthful plant-based diet that emphasizes the intake of less-healthy plant foods, such as refined grains.

In addition to detailing their food choices, the study participants also recorded other lifestyle choices, health behaviors, and their medical histories.

Over the course of the study, 8,631 participants developed coronary heart disease, which the researchers defined as a nonfatal heart attack or dying of heart disease. Those who followed an overall plant-based diet were slightly less likely (an 8 percent reduction) to have developed coronary heart disease than those who didn’t.

But here’s where things get interesting. Those who followed a healthful plant-based diet had a substantial 25 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, while those who followed an unhealthful plant-based diet had a substantial 32 percent increased risk.

This study is certainly not the last word on the subject. As an observational study, it can’t prove cause and effect like a randomized trial can. And the diet data came from self reports, which aren’t always accurate at measuring an individual’s diet. However, these diet assessments were validated against multiple-week diet records and biomarkers. Overall, this work adds to the substantial evidence that a predominately plant-based diet reduces the risk of developing heart disease.

It has two important take-home messages. One is that a plant-based diet is good for long-term health. The other is that not all plant-based diets are equally healthy. The kind that deserves to be highlighted in dietary recommendations is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats, and contains minimal animal protein, refined carbohydrates, and harmful saturated and trans fats.

In practice, this translates into eating mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural forms; sufficient “good fats,” such as those in fish or flax seeds, nuts, and other seeds; very few simple and refined carbohydrates; and little or no red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. It also means choosing quality over quantity.

Click here to read the rest of this article origially published in StatNews,com

 

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Flu shots: Important if You Have Heart Disease

Flu shots are recommended for anyone with heart disease. Find out why.

If you have heart disease, flu season can be a dangerous time. Death from influenza (flu) is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic condition. Fortunately, getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu.

Doctors have long recommended that older adults and other high-risk groups get flu shots, but now emphasize the importance of flu shots for those with heart disease, as well. The flu shot could prevent thousands of flu-related complications and deaths every year in people who have heart disease.

Why are flu shots important for those with heart disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu is estimated to cause more than 36,000 deaths annually in the United States. In addition, it sends about 200,000 people to the hospital. The rate of flu-related complications is even higher for people with heart disease.

If you have heart disease, you’re at increased risk of complications from the flu — including pneumonia, respiratory failure, heart attack and death. Having the flu can also cause dehydration and worsen pre-existing conditions such as heart failure, diabetes or asthma.

Even if you get the flu despite having a flu shot, you’ll probably have a less severe case of the flu. Getting a flu shot might even lower your risk of a heart attack if you have heart disease.

Is it safe to get a flu shot if I have heart disease?

Flu shots are safe for most people who have heart disease. Get your flu vaccine injected by needle, which is usually done in the arm. Some people develop mild arm soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever (about 99 F to 100 F, or 37 C to 38 C) or muscle aches. These side effects usually go away within a day or two.

The flu vaccine that is given by nasal spray (FluMist) isn’t recommended for people with heart disease because it’s made with live virus that can trigger flu symptoms in people with heart disease.

You shouldn’t get a flu shot if you’re allergic to eggs, or if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. If you’re sick with a fever at the time you plan to get a flu shot, your doctor may recommend waiting until you feel better to get your flu shot.

When should I get a flu shot?

If you have heart disease, get the flu shot each fall when it becomes available, usually late September through November. However, if flu shots are still available and you haven’t yet received a vaccination, you’d still benefit from getting a flu shot in January or later. That’s because the flu season doesn’t typically peak until January, February or March.

Do I have to get a flu shot from my cardiologist?

You don’t have to get your flu shot from your cardiologist. However, the American Heart Association recommends that cardiologists have the flu shot available at their clinics. The flu shot is also available through primary care doctors, some specialists and cardiology clinics, public health departments, and some pharmacies. It’s best to call ahead to determine if vaccine is available and when. Some places may require an appointment.