LIVE IT: Reduce Risk of Chronic Diseases with a Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarian Diet Can Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
A large-scale UK study found that a vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease by 32 percent.
By Erin Hicks
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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30, 2013 —Here’s just one more compelling reason to be a vegetarian: Those who shun meat have a 32 percent lower risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease, according to a new study from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
In the largest study ever conducted in the UK to compare rates of heart disease among vegetarians and non-vegetarians, researchers looked at data on 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Oxford study.
Participants were tracked from the 1990s until 2009. They self-reported factors such as their age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, educational level, and socioeconomic background.
Thirty-four percent of the volunteers were vegetarian — a significant representation that allowed researchers to make more precise estimates of the relative risks between those who were vegetarian and those who weren't, according to a press release on the study.
Almost half of the participants had their blood pressures recorded and gave blood samples for cholesterol testing.
By the time the study was completed in 2009, there had been 1,235 cases of heart disease among the participants, including 169 deaths, identified through hospital records and death certificates. More than 25 percent of the non-vegetarians had long-term medical treatment at recruitment compared with less than 20 percent of the vegetarians. The probability of heart disease between the ages of 50 to 70 was 6.8 percent for non-vegetarians compared with 4.6 percent for vegetarians.
The researchers also found that vegetarians had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians, which is believed to be the main reason behind their reduced risk of heart disease, according to the study.
The vegetarians in the study also had a lower body mass index, and fewer cases of diabetes.
“Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease,” said Francesca Crowe, PhD, lead author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, in the release.
The study was published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
How to Move Towards a Vegetarian Diet
Even if you believe in the health benefits of a non-meat, plant-based vegetarian diet, it can be difficult to make the switch if you’re a diehard steak lover or a fish fanatic. But Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, author ofThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition,offers these three simple tips to help make the switch to a vegetarian-friendly diet.
1. Do your research:Start slowly by experimenting with meatless meals one to two nights a week. No one says you have to go cold turkey right away. “Make sure your dish is comprised of vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, or peas), and fruits,” says Hever. “Search the Internet and cookbook options that are now abundantly available for whole food, plant-based recipes that sound delicious, and begin collecting a repertoire of your favorites.”
2. Mix it up:Try to think of a vegetarian diet as a new challenge, and have fun with it, says Hever: “Instead of focusing on the foods you’re trying to avoid, look at all of the new options you haven’t yet experienced because you may have been stuck in a rut of eating the same foods every week.” She recommends trying fruits and vegetables you may not have tasted before, like baby leafy greens or jicama, or grains like Himalayan red rice, or one of the dozen of different types of lentils on the market.
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