My husband has heart disease and we are thinking about going vegan. Do you think this will help? It’s a little bit of an extreme move for us.
This is a great question, and I think the answer will interest a lot of people. Veganism is certainly a major lifestyle adjustment for most people, especially non-vegetarians, so it’s fair to be concerned about whether or not it’s the right move for you and your husband. Because your interest in changing your diet is based on addressing your husband’s health (as opposed to animal welfare), I will focus on the health effects of going vegan.
With heart disease, the most important dietary changes your husband needs to make are to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol. The best way to do this is to reduce high fat meat, eggs and whole milk-based dairy consumption. Vegan diets eliminate these foods completely and focus on fruits, vegetable, whole grains, legumes and plant oils, so that’s why the vegan diet is attractive for people with heart disease specifically. Sure, vegans avoid obvious health threats high in saturated fat like butter and bacon, but even vegans need to watch what they eat. Vegetable oils and fried foods aren’t off-limits for vegans, so don’t think that replacing a side of sausage with a side of French fries will improve your health! The health benefits that vegans experience are typically due to an increased intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. These foods are great sources of dietary fiber, which makes you feel full longer and helps move LDL (“bad” cholesterol) out of your system. Research shows that this correlates with heart health. If these super-foods would be making up the majority of your diet, along with low-fat proteins like beans and soy products, then veganism may be a good way for you to go.
Heart Healthy Nutrition Tips:
- Increase fruit and vegetable consumption
- Switch to oat bran fiber (oatmeal, cheerios, oat bran), high in heart healthy soluble fiber.
- Eat baked or poached wild salmon weekly for omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation.
- Increase legumes (chickpeas, beans, soybeans)
- Include a handful of raw almonds and/or walnuts for heart healthy oils
- Use egg whites instead of the whole egg to reduce cholesterol
- Experiment with whole soybean products, e.g. tofu, edamame to replace meat
- If you are going to eat meat, just 2x a week and must be the leanest you can find.
- Cook up whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley
- Experiment with Indian food because they have mastered vegetarian and vegan food that is super tasty and cooked with medicinal herbs and spices.
I would be remiss not to point out that a good balance of all of the food groups (fruits, veggies, whole grains, protein, dairy) can easily make up the majority of a non-vegan, non-vegetarian diet as well! Greek Yogurt is a super healthy low-fat source of protein that’s great for the digestive system because of the live and active cultures, and baked salmon has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these are vegan no-no’s, but are totally healthy!
The bottom line is that veganism is perfectly healthy if you do it right. If you want to go vegan, you may want to transition to a vegetarian diet that includes fish, and then gradually eliminate foods to achieve the vegan diet and see if it’s doable. I think you can take the best of both the vegan and meat-eating worlds to create a diet that is both healthy and satisfying to you and your husband, without feeling like you can’t succeed at eating heart healthy.
Indian Veggie Medley
One fun way to introduce new veggies is to put them into dishes from different cultures. We took cauliflower, combined it with peas, and accented it with some magical spices from India. The new flavors got a big thumbs up from our taste-tasters. Besides the vitamin C and iron in this recipe, you get a dose of powerful antioxidants from the turmeric.
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 bay leaves
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large head cauliflower (2 ½ pounds), cut into florets
1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
½ cup fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons plain nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon sea salt
- In wok or large saucepan, heat oil over high heat. Add bay leaves and cumin seeds and cook 2 minutes, stirring until seeds crackle and are fragrant.
- Add cauliflower and cook until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add ginger and turmeric and stir until cauliflower is evenly coated. Stir in water; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in peas and cook, uncovered, until most of liquid evaporates and cauliflower is fork-tender, 5-7 minutes longer. Transfer vegetable mixture to large serving bowl and discard bay leaves; drain any excess liquid.
- Add cilantro, yogurt, and salt to vegetable mixture and toss to coat evenly.
Makes 5 servings (1 cup per serving).
Nutrition Facts per serving: 120 calories; 6g fat (0g sat fat, 3g mono, 2g poly, 0g trans fats); 0mg cholesterol; 14g carbohydrate (6g fiber 4g sugar); 5g protein; 80mg sodium; 6% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 130% DV vitamin C; 6% DV calcium; 10% DV iron.
* Courtesy of Appetite for Life, Stacey Antine, HarperOne, 2012