A research study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found vegans can be at a low risk of heart disease because they can be lacking in key nutrients such as vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. “On the basis of the present data, it is suggested that vegetarians, especially vegans, could benefit from increased dietary intake of n-3 PUFA and vitamin B12 and thus improve the balance ratio of n-3 to n-6 PUFA and vitamin B12 status, which may reduce any thrombotic tendency that might increase their generally low risk of cardiovascular disease.” (Source: ACS.org)
The research indicated deficiencies of these nutrients can be associated with lower HDL levels and an increase in homocysteine. High density lipoproteins (HDL) are believed to help remove the soft “bad” cholesterol from the blood stream so it is less likely to stick to the walls of arteries. The American Heart Association says a level of HDL less than 40 mg/dL can increase the risk of heart disease. Some things that are thought to increase HDL are aerobic exercise, quitting tobacco use, eat monousaturated fats from olive oil, and nuts, cutting out trans fatty acids, consuming omega-3 fatty acids, eating some types of fish, and drinking cranberry juice.
A simple test can determine cholesterol composition of the blood. You can read more about interpreting the test results and what they mean about heart health on the American Hearth Association site.
Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood that is thought to be related to heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, when it is too high. It also could be related to atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. Homocysteine level in the blood is related to genetic factors and diet, particularly the B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Folic acid and other B vitamins can help break down homocysteine.
Examples of folic acid sources from food are green leafy vegetables, citrus juices, legumes, and fortified cereals. The test for homocysteine is also done from drawing a blood sample. You would need to speak to a doctor to determine if you are a candidate for the test, because it may only be suitable for those with a family history of heart disease.
The vegan research study noted omnivores generally have a much higher risk for heart disease than vegans, but vegans could be at some risk if they have the particular nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin B12 has been said to be unavailable from vegan sources by the website Vegan Health, so supplementation might also be required for it. Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans and mungo beans. Also linseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil and wheat germ oil contain them.
Other nutrients the research mentioned that vegans generally might be deficient in are zinc and iron. Iron can be obtained from a variety of non-animal foods. The Vegetarian Resource Group has a sample daily menu with iron content. Zinc can be consumed from plant-based foods but the phytate from some of them like legumes, may block aborption, so supplementation might be necessary.
Image Credit: Becritical/Veganism