Just being a vegetarian isn’t good enough

London: Simply following a vegetarian diet may not be enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk as the health benefits of plant-based diets depend largely on the specific foods consumed, according to a study. The research suggests that people following a plant-based diet who frequently consumed less-healthy foods like sweets, refined grains and juice showed no heart health benefit compared with those who did not eat a plant-based diet.

“Based on these results, it seems that simply following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is not enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk,” said Demosthenes Panagiotakos, a professor at Harokopio University of Athens in Greece. “It is also important to focus on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to see a benefit in terms of reducing cardiovascular disease,” Panagiotakos said.

Researchers tracked eating behaviour and the development of heart disease among more than 2,000 Greek adults over a 10-year period, beginning in 2002.

The researchers analysed the relationship between diet and the development of cardiovascular disease using a dietary index that divided participants into three groups based on the number of animal-based foods they consumed per day. Men eating fewer animal-based foods were 25% less likely to develop heart disease compared to men eating more animal-based foods, the researchers found.

The same trend was seen in women, but the relationship was less strong, with an overall risk reduction of about 11% among women eating the fewest animal-based foods, they said. “These findings highlight that even a small reduction in the daily consumption of animal-based products — principally the less healthy foods, such as processed meat products — accompanied by an increase in healthy plant-based foods may contribute to better cardiovascular health,” Panagiotakos said.

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