Vegetarian Diets: Are They Better for your Heart?

A good number of vegetarians automatically assume that a ‘green’ diet offers better cardiovascular health. However, a recent study published on HealthDay suggests there might be more to it than one assumes.

The study surveyed both meat eaters and vegetarians over a 10-year period, and according to head researcher Dr. Hyunseok Kim, meat eaters experience no major risk of heart disease compared to their vegan counterparts. But in his findings (presented in Las Vegas at the American College of Gastroenterology), Kim still cautions against neglecting greens in our diet: “...A vegan diet is by no means useless for preventing heart disease.” What the study argues is the common assumption that a vegetarian diet prevents cardiovascular problems on a population level.

VegetarianThe study referenced data from the U.S. national survey to compare thousands of adult meat eaters and vegetarians from all backgrounds, and while vegetarians recorded healthier body weight overall, their general risk for heart disease wasn’t actually different.

Strict vegans do indeed show reduced risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, but Kim argues that the reason may have more to do with the fact that the majority of vegans are young and female, which means they’re already at a lower risk of heart disease.

Dr. Kim and his colleagues at Rutgers School of Medicine in New Jersey examined statistics from a survey conducted from 2007 to 2010 by the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which 2.3% of nearly 12,000 adults were vegan. The examined factors comprised a cluster of common conditions including high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, rate of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and the average waist circumference — in essence, factors that raise a person's risk of acquiring heart disease.

Other factors were addressed as well: an overall estimate of each participant’s Framingham heart disease risk, their age and gender, smoking status, etc. Having taken all these factors into the equation, vegetarians were found to have a 2.7% risk of cardiovascular problems compared to a 4.5% risk for meat eaters. The difference was found to be statistically insignificant.

The study was met with both skepticism and curiosity by staunch advocates of vegetarianism. Connie Diekman, director of the nutrition department at Washington University, said in a statement that her department was considering the results of the study, and also mentioned that the study seems to contradict a health report published in 2015 on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In that particular study, eating more fruits and vegetables was found to lower the risk of heart disease among adults; however, Diekman agrees that more long-term studies are needed to better assess specific benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Be that as it may, but a good number of health experts agree that children don’t really need a vegetarian diet. According the American Academy of Pediatrics, healthy fats are essential for brain growth and physical development.