A large study conducted in the U.K. has demonstrated that the risk of hospitalization or even death from heart disease is 32 percent lower with a vegetarian diet than with a diet containing meat and fish.
Led by experts at the University of Oxford, the study is the largest investigation ever conducted in the U.K., comparing heart disease outcomes in vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The debate whether vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters has gone on for decades, and while there are valid arguments on both sides, this latest study makes a good case for promoting a vegetarian diet if you are concerned about heart disease.
Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study suggests that a vegetarian diet could “significantly reduce” the risk of heart disease. The research team looked at almost 45,000 people enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. About 34 percent of them were vegetarians.
The participants were enrolled in the study throughout the 1990s. They answered a number of questions about health and lifestyle, including diet, exercise, smoking, and drinking habits. Factors such as age and socioeconomic background were also taken into account. A large portion of the participants also had their blood pressure taken and provided blood samples for determining their cholesterol levels. Everyone was tracked until at least 2009. During this time, researchers identified 1,235 cases of heart disease – 169 involved death and 1066 were hospital diagnoses that were identified through hospital records.
The Oxford team discovered that vegetarians had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians. The vegetarians also tended to have lower body mass indexes and fewer incidences of diabetes.
The authors of the study say that they believe their findings bring home the fact that diet can prevent heart disease.
How vegetarian diet helps reduce heart disease risk
Preventing heart disease is crucial. The medical community is always looking at ways to improve heart health because currently about 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease every year. When we break that down, it works out to one in every four deaths.
There is nothing new about making dietary adjustments as a preventative measure against heart disease. While being a vegetarian seems to point to reduced risk of heart disease, many experts believe even cutting down on meat consumption and increasing fruit and vegetable intake can do a great deal for our heart health. Let’s look at the vegetarian lifestyle, though, to get a better idea of why it can be helpful for the heart.
Most vegetarian diets are low in total fat, saturated fats, and cholesterol, which are all contributors to heart disease. Below are some essential ingredients in a vegetarian diet.
- Dietary fiber – a vegetarian diet is high in fiber from beans, fruits, vegetables, and certain types of grains. This is good for your cholesterol level.
- Amino acids – plant proteins can provide enough essential and non-essential amino acids, so you don’t need foods from animals. Amino acids give our body cells structure. A large portion of our muscles and tissues are made up of amino acids.
- Whole grains and soy protein – contain essential and non-essential amino acids
- Iron – dried beans, spinach, and dried fruits are all good plant sources of iron that would otherwise be missing since iron comes from red meat and egg yolk.
- Vitamin B 12 – vegetarians can get this from fortified cereals, fortified soy beverages, as well as supplements. B 12 helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy.
- Calcium – kale, broccoli, and some legumes are a good source of calcium from plants for vegetarians.
- Zinc – Grains, nuts, and legumes can provide vegetarians with zinc, which is needed for growth and development.
Research shows that the vegetarian menu can decrease the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This condition can put you at a much higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. If you have three out of five heart health risk factors, then you have metabolic syndrome. Those factors are high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, and an expanded waist size.
While you may not be ready to go vegetarian, you can decrease your risk of heart disease by just going meatless a few days each week. You may even find it fun to try new dishes. Nutritionists emphasize that reducing meat portions, substituting proteins from time to time, and filling your plate with lots of fruits and vegetables can help you reap a lot of heart health benefits.