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
- 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!