New research indicates that avoiding meat and adopting a vegetarian diet may reduce your cholesterol, help you lose weight, and improve your blood sugar control. Those of us with heart or other vascular diseases, or who are at a high risk of developing them, benefit from these advantages.
The results “demonstrate that consuming a vegetarian diet exerts a modest but significant effect in… reducing multiple key risk factors,” including “bad” LDL cholesterol; HbA1c – a measure of average blood sugar over three months; and body weight, particularly in high-risk patients, according to the study’s authors.
Vegetarian diets, which exclude meat and fish, have grown in popularity in recent years, with more fast-food restaurants offering plant-based alternatives. IIt has been demonstrated that the regimens are beneficial to the heart and blood vessels in the general population, but there has been limited research on individuals with heart disease or at high risk for developing it.
Meta-Analysis Including 20 Tests
To look into, Tian Wang, a research dietitian at the University of Sydney in Australia, identified 20 studies involving 1,878 individuals with cardiovascular disease or a high risk of developing it. They compared the outcomes of vegetarian diets to those of other diets, including cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
Dietary vegetarianism for an average of six months resulted in cholesterol reductions that were substantially greater than those seen with standard therapy.
In addition to a decrease in blood sugar by 0.24 percent, vegetarians in the study lost an average of 7.5 pounds. Overall, the studies did not demonstrate a significant reduction in blood pressure.
“The greatest improvements in [blood sugar and cholesterol] were observed in individuals with type 2 diabetes and people at high risk for cardiovascular disease,” the authors write, emphasizing the potential protective and synergistic effects of vegetarian diets for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The investigations were conducted between 1990 and 2021 in the United States, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand with anywhere from 12 to 291 individuals spanning in age from 28 to 64.
In the studies, the most commonly prescribed diets were vegan, consisting solely of plant-based foods; lacto-ovo-vegetarian, excluding meat, poultry, and seafood but permitting dairy products and eggs; and lacto-vegetarian, excluding meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs but permitting dairy products.
Although lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets were associated with the greatest reduction in cholesterol, four out of five of these studies mandated calorie restriction.
Overall, the research indicates a moderate level of evidence for cholesterol and blood sugar reductions with a vegetarian diet, according to the researchers.
Not Every Vegetarian Diet is Healthful
Among the key characteristics of vegetarian diets that may explain the improvements in key risk factors are lower saturated fat content and other substances that may explain the health benefits.
According to the authors, the regimens may also be high in dietary fiber, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium and beneficial for blood sugar.
The authors caution, however, that not all vegetarian diets are necessarily healthful, as they may contain empty calories and deep-fried foods high in trans-fatty acids and sodium, which may increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. They reported that “more than one-third of the studies included in our meta-analysis did not emphasize the importance of consuming minimally processed plant-based whole foods.”
Therefore, “well-designed nutrition clinical trials with comprehensive dietary information are necessary to investigate the complete effect of high-quality vegetarian diets in conjunction with optimal pharmacological therapy in individuals with cardiovascular diseases.