The vegetarian diet is a heart healthy diet. However, there are several key nutrients that are not plentiful in a vegetarian diet.
New research indicates that vegetarians, and especially vegans, may have an increased risk of heart disease because of a dietary tendency towards inadequate intake of omega-3 and vitamin B12.
Vegetarians that have low levels of B-12 in their blood may have low arterial function as well, leaving them susceptible to heart disease. In one study, vitamin B-12 supplementation improved arterial function in vegetarians with subnormal vitamin B-12 levels.
Vitamin B-12 levels also decline with age and after stomach surgery, due to lower absorption rates. We suggest that you discuss testing with your doctor during your next physical, if you suspect your levels are low.
Omega-3s are commonly known to help protect heart health. The most common source is fish oil, but of course there are algae-based formulas as well. Vegetarians should be aware that the levels of EPA and DHA are typically lower in algae-based options (with the ratio favoring DHA). It is also important to note that DHA alone is not sufficient and EPA should also be included for optimal benefit.
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Vol 59 (3):777–784. 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21204526
The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. Volume 16, Number 6 (2012), 569-573, DOI: 10.1007/s12603-012-0036-x