Are vegans at risk of heart disease?

Apr 7, 2011 at 12:51 p.m. ET

According to research published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vegans may be at an increased risk of heart disease due to nutrient deficiencies in many vegan diets.

According to research published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vegans may be at an increased risk of heart disease due to nutrient deficiencies in many vegan diets.

Vegan lifestyle leads to heart disease

Though a diet high in red meats and saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, an animal-free diet can also put you at risk of heart attack or stroke. Review of over 30 years of vegetarianism suggests that diets with no animal products can cause blood clots and atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.

Vegan diets lacking key nutrients

Any diet, including the vegan diet, that is deficient in key nutrients will increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Because the vegan diet does not include animal products, it can -- if not properly balanced -- lack adequate amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Insufficient intake of fat and healthy fatty acids puts vegans at risk of elevated blood levels of homocysteine and decreased levels of HDL, the "good" form of cholesterol. Both of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Plant sources of omega-3s and vitamin B12

The study recommends vegans increase their dietary omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 -- through food or dietary supplements -- to boost their heart health. Vitamin B12 is not generally found in plant-based foods, but you can increase your vitamin B12 intake with fortified foods, such as cereals and soymilk. Plant sources of omega-3s include flax and walnuts. (Why you need omega-3's)

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