Heart disease

Heart disease is a term used to talk about cardiovascular disease (CVD) and describes a chronic disease of the heart and blood vessels. The main issue the disease brings is reduced blood flow to the heart, brain or body because there are cholesterol plaques (fat layers) clogging your arteries (blood vessels). Arteries are the blood vessels bringing blood from the heart to the body.

High cholesterol levels in the blood are the main problem, contributing building material for cholesterol plaques, which cause hardening and narrowing of arteries – this is called atherosclerosis. Narrower arteries mean higher blood pressure – same volume of blood has to squeeze through a narrower space (think of a blocked pipe). 

Cholesterol plaques can clog an artery supplying blood to the heart (heart attack) or the brain (stroke) – this may happen gradually, as the plaques grow, or it may happen suddenly when a part of a plaque tears away and blocks an artery. A stroke can also be caused by a brain artery bursting.

Heart disease is among the top killers worldwide yet you can greatly reduce your risk by living a healthy lifestyle. Diet is the main factor because what you eat can either help to keep you healthy or it directly contributes towards cholesterol plaque build-up. Other factors that may contribute to heart disease include smoking, obesity and stress.

Animal products – meat, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish – always contain saturated fats and cholesterol. When you eat foods rich in saturated fats, it increases your cholesterol levels. Foods such as meat (red, white, processed), fish, egg yolks or high-fat dairy products (butter, ghee, high-fat cheese, cream, ice cream, whole milk) are all high in saturated fats. However, there are two plant oils that are also rich in saturated fats and should be strictly limited – palm and coconut oil.

Meat, poultry and seafood also contain haem iron – a type of iron that is absorbed by your body without limits. Too much haem iron can increase the cholesterol build-up in your arteries. Plant iron doesn’t cause this as your body only absorbs as much plant (non-haem) iron as it needs, so you cannot overload on plant iron.

Animal products encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut (large intestine) and these bacteria produce toxic compounds, such as TMAO, that also increase your risk of heart disease.

Processed foods – usually made of white (refined) flour, rich in cheap fats, sugar or salt – are bad news as well. They have a wide range of health-detrimental effects including increasing the risk of heart disease.A healthy vegan diet – based on wholefoods, with small amounts of processed foods – reduces your risk of heart disease by 25-57 per cent. It can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol more effectively than other diets and it helps to keep those levels healthy.