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Vegans at Risk for Heart Attacks and Strokes

Doctors continue to remind us of the increased cardiovascular risk factors from eating red meat and other animal based products, and suggest we eat more vegetables to maintain good health. Environmentalists inform us how large production cattle ranches wreak havoc on the quality of our air and water, and urge us to go vegetarian. Animal rights activists protest the mistreatment of animals from dairy cows to egg laying chickens, in a concerted effort to promote total veganism.

With all of this anti-meat and animal rights campaigning, one might think eating animal products was just wrong, but new research suggests people who follow a vegan diet are at risk for developing blood clots and atherosclerosis, which are two conditions that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

The vegan diet is completely free of any kind of animal products. That essentially means a vegan ingests absolutely nothing that comes from or is produced by an animal. Never are eggs, butter, sushi or chicken broth soup for the soul found on the diet list of a vegan. A diet of nuts, seeds and vegetables sounds like it could top the list of what is healthy to eat, yet this type of diet tends to be lacking in several important nutrients. Iron, zinc, vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids are difficult to acquire on a vegan diet, and these are key nutrients in helping to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, a vegan diet is very low in fat and, as a result, these strict vegetarians tend to have higher levels of homocysteine and lower levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, both of which also contribute to the risk of heart disease.

All of these findings, which have appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggest that to maintain a healthy heart, vegans must at least increase their dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12. Good sources of these nutrients can be found in nuts, but are more prevalent in meat and oily types of fish like wild salmon and mackerel. While vitamin and mineral supplements do contain everything we need, health experts suggest it is best to derive nutrients from the source.

For most people of average health, eating a little meat and a lot of veggies makes sense. As for the environment, there are sustainable ways to raise fish, beef and pork without harming our precious natural resources. And for the animal rights activists, it is a seriously tough call. Your heart may break when you take that first bite of fish, but at least it will be healthy.

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December 29th, 2011