"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

A vegetarian food regimen may help your heart and reduce your risk of diabetes

July 26, 2023 – New research shows that avoiding meat and following a vegetarian food regimen can lower your cholesterol, provide help to drop pounds and improve your blood sugar control.

These advantages accrue to those of us that suffer from or are at high risk for heart or other vascular disease.

The results were published this week within the Journal JAMA network opened.

The results “show that eating a vegetarian diet has a modest but significant effect in reducing several important risk factors,” including “bad” LDL cholesterol, HbA1c – a measure of average blood sugar over three months – and body weight, particularly in high-risk patients, the study authors said.

Vegetarian diets that exclude meat and fish have grow to be increasingly popular lately. Plant-based alternatives are also increasingly being offered at major fast-food chains. Although these diets have been shown to have a positive effect on the guts and blood vessels in the overall population, there's little research on individuals who have already got heart disease or are at high risk of it.

Meta-analysis included 20 studies

To investigate this, Tian Wang, a nutritionist on the University of Sydney in Australia, identified 20 studies involving 1,878 individuals with or at high risk for heart problems. They compared the outcomes of individuals on vegetarian diets with those on other diets, including key measures of cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure.

Overall, the outcomes showed that individuals who followed a vegetarian food regimen for a mean period of six months had a significantly greater reduction of their levels of cholesterol than individuals who followed a typical food regimen.

The vegetarians within the study had a 0.24% drop in blood sugar levels and a mean weight reduction of three.4 kilograms. Overall, nonetheless, the studies didn't show a big reduction in blood pressure.

“The biggest improvements in [blood sugar and cholesterol] were observed in individuals with type 2 diabetes and people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, highlighting the potential protective and synergistic effects of a vegetarian diet in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease,” the authors report.

The studies were conducted between 1990 and 2021 within the United States, Asia, Europe and New Zealand and included between 12 and 291 people between the ages of 28 and 64.

The mostly prescribed diets within the studies were: vegan (ie, only plant-based foods); lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (ie, without meat, poultry, and seafood, but with dairy products and eggs); and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (ie, without meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but with dairy products).

While the best cholesterol reductions were achieved with an ovo-lacto-vegetarian food regimen, it should be remembered that in 4 out of 5 of those studies, participants had to limit their each day calorie intake.

Overall, research shows that there's moderate evidence of lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels in a vegetarian food regimen, the researchers say.

Not all vegetarian diets are healthy

Key features of vegetarian diets that will explain improvements in vital risk aspects include that the food regimen could also be lower in saturated fats and other substances, which can explain the health advantages.

The diets can also be wealthy in fiber, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, potassium and magnesium and have a positive effect on blood sugar, the authors said.

However, the authors indicate that a vegetarian food regimen just isn't necessarily healthy, as it could contain empty calories and fried foods high in trans fats and salt, which can potentially increase the danger of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

They said that “more than a third of the studies included in our meta-analysis did not emphasize the importance of consuming minimally processed whole plant foods.”

Therefore, “well-designed clinical nutrition trials with comprehensive nutritional information are needed to investigate the full effect of a high-quality vegetarian diet combined with optimal pharmacological therapy in people with cardiovascular disease.”