All diets designed to promote heart health are low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber. Vegetarian diets, then, are natural choices for those who want to reduce the risk of heart disease because vegetarian diets are naturally low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber! Eliminating meat, poultry, and fish, which are among the foods highest in fat and cholesterol and lowest in fiber, can be a giant step toward improving heart health. Another step, which comes naturally to vegetarians, is to increase the consumption of plant-based foods that are naturally high in fiber. Plant-based foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, also provide antioxidant protection for the heart.
Sauté foods in water or very small amounts of olive or canola oil. Olive and canola oils are considered the healthiest oils because they help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. Low-fat cooking methods are also recommended for heart health. Such methods include broiling, steaming, roasting, baking, poaching, boiling, and stir-frying with little or no oil. You can also try replacing some oil, butter, or margarine in recipes with water, juice, applesauce, or puréed prunes. Frying foods, particularly deep-frying, is never recommended for those concerned about heart health.
Since egg yolks are high in cholesterol, whole eggs can often be replaced with bananas, tofu, applesauce, or egg replacers in most recipes. You can also replace the yolk with the white of another egg. For example, if a recipes call for one egg, use two egg whites and discard the yolks.
When shopping for ingredients for heart-healthy meals, buy plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fat-free or low-fat milk products. Avoid frozen vegetables with cheese, cream, or butter sauces. Read the labels on snack foods to find out how much fat and cholesterol they contain. The best snacks are popcorn, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice cakes, and pretzels. There are also lower-fat baked versions of many chips that would ordinarily be high in fat.
Fiber helps to cleanse the blood of cholesterol, which is why high fiber diets are considered beneficial to the heart. To fiber intake, choose whole-grain breads and cereals and limit the consumption of refined (white) breads and cereals. Also limit consumption of sugary baked goods like croissants and muffins, which tend to be low in fiber and high in fat.
Eating out can be especially challenging both to vegetarians and to those concerned about heart health. Some simple guidelines can make it easier. For example, choose stir-fried entrées, steamed vegetables, and pasta with tomato sauce. Order baked potatoes without butter or cheese, and choose vegetable-based soups. Avoid mayonnaise-based salad dressings, and always ask for dressings and sauces to be served on the side so you can limit the amount you eat. Saturated fats and trans fats should be avoided, while monounsaturated fats are generally considered good for the heart. The fact that saturated fats are mostly found in animal products is another natural advantage for vegetarians concerned with heart health. But saturated fats are also found in coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil, so these oils should be avoided on a heart-healthy diet. Trans fats, which may also contribute to the development of heart disease, are found in margarine and many baked goods. Monounsaturated fats, the kind that is good for the heart, include canola oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, avocado, soy, and nut butters.
A vegetarian diet that includes soy products may add an extra benefit to heart health.
Many studies suggest a connection between soy, such as tofu, soymilk, and soy yogurt, and lower rates of heart disease. The usual recommendation is 25 grams of soy protein per day.
Since cholesterol is only found in food of animal origin, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, vegans do not need to worry about cholesterol in the foods they eat. Grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oil are all naturally cholesterol-free. Conversely, only vegetarian foods provide heart-healthy fiber. Oats, carrots, fruits, and beans are especially high in the kind of fiber that helps to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.