Medically reviewed by Sara Osman,RD,PT


Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD) is the biggest killer and responsible for 31% of overall deaths worldwide[1].
Multiple clinical studies have pointed out that consuming animal products significantly increases the risk of deaths due to CVD [2,3].


Cardio Vascular Diseases Explained

Cardiovascular diseases refer to diseases related to the heart, vascular diseases of the brain and blood vessels [4].

These diseases are usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries and due to the narrowing of the arteries, the heart muscles could not get enough oxygen-rich blood, leading to permanent damage [5].

Furthermore, if the fatty material breaks away in the arteries, it could cause a blood clot. Blockage of a coronary artery due to a blood clot by cutting off oxygen-rich blood supply could lead to a heart attack.

Similarly, when an artery carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a clot, it could lead to a stroke. Some of the risk factors for CVD include tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity [1].

Common types of CVD include strokes, coronary heart diseases, aortic disease and peripheral arterial disease [2].

Several studies have pointed out a correlation between high meat and dairy products consumption and an increased risk of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases [2].

An extensive study carried over a period of 22 years with more than 120,000 participants concluded the following [2,3]. 

One 85g serving of red meat a day (equivalent to the size of a deck of cards) was associated with a:

Increased risk of early death
Increased risk of death from Cancer
Increased risk of death from CVD

One serving of processed meat (one hot dog or two slices of bacon) a day was associated with a

Increased risk of early death
Increased risk of death from Cancer
Increased risk of death from CVD

The below graphs shows the mortality rate from CVD across the globe.

Source: CVD Mortality rates, Global Atlas on CVD -2011, WHO

Causes of Cardiovascular Diseases

Although there are many reasons for CVD diseases like smoking, ethnic background, sex, age and family history, we’ll be focussing only on the causes of these diseases due to dietary patterns.


The link between red meat consumption and heart diseases could also be explained by studying a compound referred to as carnitine, found abundantly in red meat.

It is known that certain gut bacteria in our digestive system use carnitine as an energy source, breaks it down and produces a waste material called trimethylamine [13].

This is then converted to trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) which is known to alter cholesterol metabolism in the gut, liver and artery walls thereby increasing overall cholesterol levels in the body as well as decreasing the removal of cholesterol from artery walls [13].

The above process has been linked to atherosclerosis and increases the risk of CVD [13,15]. Scientists estimate that discontinuation of dietary red meat reduces plasma TMAO within 4 weeks [14]

Saturated & Trans Fats

Food containing high saturated and trans fats can increase total blood cholesterol/lipids, specifically LDL (the bad one). Higher total and LDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease [11].

Animal protein/fats found in full-fat dairy products like whole milk, butter, cream, ghee and cheese or in meat products does not itself cause heart disease, but the saturated fat content in it does.

A prospective study done by Oxford vegetarian group in the UK with more than 11,000 participants found that vegans have the lowest cholesterol levels [11].

A group of 17 different studies included in a Cochrane systematic review with over 59,000 participants found out that cutting down on saturated fats led to a 17% reduction in risk of CVD [12].


High Salt Intake

A journal published after gathering results of 13 different studies with more than 170,000 participants concluded that high salt intake is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases [8].

High salt consumption is linked to hypertension or high blood pressure which affects more than a billion people worldwide and is responsible for cardiovascular diseases [7,8].

Scientists claim that there is more salt in animal tissues such as meat, blood and milk than in plant tissues [9]. Processed foods also have a very high sodium content and it’s estimated that 75% of daily sodium intake comes from salt found in processed foods [9].

Haem Iron

Haem iron, found in red and processed meat, is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) by as much as 57%, a study indicates [16,17].

Haem iron absorption in the body is much higher than non-haem (37% vs 5%). As a result, it may contribute as a catalyst in increasing the level of harmful cholesterols in the body which can cause tissue-damaging inflammation, a potential risk for the development of CVD [16].

Other research indicates that diabetic women are at a higher risk of coronary heart diseases due to high intake of haem iron as compared to non-diabetic women [18].

Excess Processed Sugar Intake

Consuming a diet high in sugar for just a few weeks has been linked to increased risk of CVD and impacts triglycerides, LDL, oxidized LDL, uric acid, insulin resistance and abnormal glucose tolerance to name a few[26].

Products with added sugars, particularly fructose pose the highest concern, even more than products with other sugar such as glucose[26].


Diabetes is a major risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have pointed out that 60% of all deaths related to diabetes can be linked to CVD [6].

For more info on the connection between Diabetes and Cardiovascular diseases, please refer to the article on Diabetes.


Reducing Risks of Cardio-Vascular Diseases

Apart from being physically active and making lifestyle changes, eating a diet that is plant-based can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Limit Salt Intake

Foods like bacon, cheese, prawns, ham, anchovies, smoked meat and fish, salami, salt fish, olives, pickles, soy sauce have been salt-food items and the intake should be monitored [10].

Reducing dietary salt intake globally is one of the top priorities for the World Health Organization to tackle the global non-communicable disease crisis and strongly recommends limiting the salt intake to less than 5 grams a day [6].

Eat More Plant Protein 

Compared to animal proteins, plant proteins can be a healthier option as they can reduce the overall cholesterol levels by approximately 5% thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases [19].

A diet consisting of soy, nuts and pulses (dried peas and beans, lentils and chickpeas) could reduce the levels of LDL bad cholesterols that contributes to fatty build-ups in arteries and raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral artery disease [19].

Plant protein-based diet could also reduce blood pressure as well as the total cholesterol, ‘apolipoprotein B’ cholesterol, triglycerides levels in the body, all factors responsible for increasing risk of cardiovascular diseases [20]

A study conducted with more than 81,000 participants found that people consuming large amounts of animal protein experienced a 60-per cent increase in CVD while people who consumed only plant protein experienced a 40-per cent reduction in CVD [21].


Increase Phytochemicals and Anti-Oxidants Intake

Research after research after research has highlighted the role of phytochemicals and antioxidants in fighting not only against various chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular diseases but also increase the lifespan [22,23,24,25].

Several prospective cohort and cross-sectional studies with more than 700,000 participants observed that daily intake of fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of hypertension/high blood pressure, a prime suspect for vascular diseases [22,23].

Researchers claim that each combined serving of fruits and vegetable a day could decrease the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths by 4% [23]. They also found that for each additional serving (up to five servings), mortality related to coronary heart diseases reduces by a further 4% [23].

Beneficial phytochemicals, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables such as vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavonoids have found to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol and other lipids in the arteries [23].

Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are good sources of magnesium and potassium along with other phytochemicals that are known to decrease mortality rates [23,24].

Increase Dietary Fibre Intake

High fibre intake has proved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, type-2 diabetes and other inflammatory diseases [24,25].

As we know, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains are the main sources of dietary fibre and it is estimated that more than 20 grams of daily fibre intake exhibit a lower risk of death [24].

Fibre’s role in preventing heart diseases could be attributed to its ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Soluble fibre found in fruits and vegetables binds with cholesterol particles in the digestive system and moves them out before it’s absorbed by the body.

Lower Trans Fats

Eating a non-plant-based diet that is high in saturated fats can increase the total cholesterol levels in the blood leading to clogging of arteries.

Trans fats found in fried foods, takeaway foods, as well as crispy snacks, increase the level of bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) and reduces the levels of good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins) thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases [7].

Industry experts recommend that replacing the bad fats i.e. (saturated and trans fats) with healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease events than reducing overall fat intake [12,7].

A diet consisting of whole grains, nuts, legumes is rich in healthy fats which can help reduce cholesterol levels.
Researchers also believe that drinking green and herbal tea could be quite beneficial for reducing LDL cholesterol levels in the body [19].

Eat Melatonin Rich Foods

Melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the body and also found naturally in mustard, Goji berries, almonds, sunflower seeds, cardamom, fennel, coriander and cherries can prevent heart diseases and obesity [27].

It could possibly help in controlling weight gain, improving blood profiles, increasing HDL cholesterol while reducing LDL cholesterol levels [27].

Medically reviewed by Sara Osman,RD,PT

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