Vegan or Mediterranean: Which Diet is More Heart-Friendly?

The Mediterranean diet has long been heralded as the best way to eat for heart health. It prioritizes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, moderate amounts of dairy, poultry, eggs and fish and low amounts of red meat. “The Mediterranean diet has demonstrated not only reduction in cardiovascular risk factors such as lipids but also a reduction in death,” Barseghian said.

The vegan diet and the Mediterranean diet have a lot in common. Both prioritize vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes. But a big difference is that people following the Mediterranean diet often eat fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. While the American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week to get enough omega-3s, Adeboye said there are vegan sources of the nutrient, including walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, edamame and seaweed, that can accomplish the same thing. What’s more, one scientific study found that most vegans get enough omega-3s.

There aren’t many scientific studies that pit the Mediterranean diet and vegan diet against each other, but one small, monthlong study of 24 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 35 found the Mediterranean diet to be slightly better for heart health because vegan eaters had lower levels of vitamin B12 and nutrients were absorbed better for the Mediterranean diet followers. Still, the vegans had lower LDL cholesterol and experienced more weight loss than the Mediterranean dieters, showing that both ways of eating have their benefits. Another study also showed that both ways of eating supported heart health.

How to know which heart-healthy diet to follow

Since there is enough science to support several different ways of eating to improve heart health, how can you know which diet to follow? Three cardiologists gave the same advice — pick a heart-healthy eating plan that you’re most likely to stick with long term. “The main components of vegan eating and the Mediterranean diet are the same: a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and low — or no, in the case of vegan — intake of animal fat,” Dr. Ailin Barseghian El-Farra said.

Dr. Adedayo Adeboye emphasized that the eating style you pick doesn’t have to be followed perfectly either; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Especially if you are used to eating a lot of meat, he said that eating just one or two plant-based meals more a week than you’re used to is more beneficial than not doing it at all.“Simply increasing the amount of plant foods you’re eating will reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure — all of which can negatively impact the heart,” he said.

What all the cardiologists said they want people to know is that eating mostly plant-based foods, including plant proteins, is good for your heart. But how you choose to get there is up to you. As long as this is the basis of the way you eat, your cardiovascular health will benefit.

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