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Vegetarianism: Great for the Heart, if You Avoid These Foods

Vegetarianism: Great for the Heart, if You Avoid These Foods

A large-scale, long-term study found that vegetarians are 32 percent less likely to develop heart disease than meat eaters.

The study – published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition began in 1993 and followed the almost 45,000 subjects for an average of 11.6 years. A third of the participants in the study were vegetarian, and after accounting for lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, education, and exercise researchers found that the vegetarian group was almost 1/3 less likely to end up hospitalized for heart disease.

Participants lived in England and Scotland and not only did vegetarians have a lower risk for heart disease, they had – on average – a lower body mass index and lower cholesterol regardless of age or sex.

Cardiologist Dr. Peter McCollough told ABC News that part of what makes vegetarian food healthier is that it tends to be lower in salt and saturated fat:

“Saturated fat is the single greatest dietary factor in the production of cholesterol [...] Sodium intake is the single greatest dietary determinant of blood pressure.”

Of course, not all vegetarian diets are any healthier than an omnivorous diet. Sure, a whole foods vegetarian diet that focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is going to be a lot better for your heart, but it’s also easy to fall into the vegetarian junk food trap. Vegetarians who eat a diet rich in high-fat dairy, for example, are getting their fair share of the saturated fat that Dr. McCollough warns against from foods like cheese and whole milk.

Related Reading: 5 Soy-Free Milk Alternatives

Other vegetarian junk foods that can sabotage vegetarianism’s health benefits include:

  • french fries
  • potato chips
  • candy
  • ice cream
  • soda pop
  • processed meat substitutes

Like with any other way of eating, you can have these things in moderation, but the point here is that eating vegetarian alone probably isn’t enough. What makes vegetarianism healthier are the high-fiber, nutrient-dense, low-salt, and low- saturated fat foods like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

This isn’t the first study that’s linked cutting back or cutting out the meat with better health. A 2012 study found that consuming red meat significantly upped your mortality risk from diseases like cancer and heart disease, and another found that eating a more plant-based diet reduces your risks of stroke and heart disease.

Want to give plant-based eating a go? You can dip in a toe with the Weekend Vegan Challenge!

Do any of you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet? Did you notice any personal health benefits when you made the switch? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

15 Easy Vegan Main Dishes
5 Vegan Desserts

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Becky Striepe

Becky Striepe is a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. Her life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Like this article? You can follow Becky on Twitter or find her on Facebook!


+ add your own
9:46AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013


1:54AM PDT on May 30, 2013

I've been a vegetarian for 20+ years now and really close to vegan for the past few months. But I do eat a lot of junk food. Still, knowing that tons of animals aren't suffering because of me will let me die a happy man, no matter how soon it is.

Maria, I say go for it!

12:52PM PDT on May 28, 2013


11:47AM PDT on May 26, 2013


10:56PM PDT on May 19, 2013

eat in moderation

3:36AM PDT on Apr 6, 2013

The "fake" meats aren't all bad. Tempeh "bacon" is actually well tempeh. Other fake meats though may not even be organic. So don't eat so much of them! It's easy to just substitute them for what you would use as meat.

10:46AM PST on Feb 21, 2013

"Like with any other way of eating, you can have these things in moderation, but the point here is that eating vegetarian alone probably isn’t enough."

Well, moderation goes for everyone, in everything.
But I've been a vegetarian since 1986; I DO eat fries (rarely, but I do), I eat candy regularly, and in the summer I eat ice cream almost daily.

If being vegetarian weren't "enough", I wouldn't be complaint- and aches-free, not having been to a doctor's office since 1984 (yes, eighty-four).

7:33PM PST on Feb 20, 2013

I've been a vegetarian most of my life, so I really don't know if I'm healthier for it, but at 47 I don't have high blood pressure or any other signs of heart problems, not even a weight problem. I also find that I seem to be more active than most people my age, in my area at least- I walk a lot at a very fast pace, even when not in a hurry, and take the bus. I don't seem to have the same problems that ails most of my meat eating friends around my age either.

1:59AM PST on Feb 18, 2013


12:08AM PST on Feb 18, 2013

For eight months, in 1987, I went on an all fruit diet.
So I got down to 98 pounds at five 5 1/2, the doctor I had been going to for 10 years, said that I was the healthiest she had ever seen me.
I had more energy and fewer personal fears.
My love for people grew extraordinarily high.
I woke up every morning filled with joy and went to sleep each night with the knowing that I would sleep like a baby. Would love to go back on it if I had the discipline.

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