Scientists from Denmark revealed that sticking to vegetarian and vegan diets can lower the blood’s cholesterol and fat levels which heighten the risk of heart ailments.
This effect, comparable to roughly one-third the impact of daily medication, was considered “really substantial” by the researchers.
However, professionals pointed out that meat and dairy possess their own health advantages, and not all diets devoid of meat are necessarily healthy.
The study compiled 30 trials from 1982 onwards where participants were given a specific diet and its influence on cardiac health was monitored. Nearly 2,400 individuals worldwide were included.
High levels of bad cholesterol can result in the accumulation of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which might eventually lead to heart attacks or strokes.
The findings, presented in the European Heart Journal, revealed that vegetarian and vegan diets: decreased bad cholesterol by 10%, lowered total cholesterol by 7% and reduced apolipoprotein B (the main protein in bad cholesterol) by 14%.
“This corresponds to a third of the effect of a cholesterol-lowering statin [pill] – so that’s really substantial,” Prof Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, the primary investigator at Rigshospitalet, in Denmark, relayed to BBC News.
These studies would have required long-term or even lifetime dietary control to observe how these blood changes evolved.
However, Prof Frikke-Schmidt used statin trial data to project that adherence to such a diet for 15 years could potentially reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease by 20%.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 18 million individuals died from cardiovascular disease annually.
Despite the benefits of adopting a more plant-focused diet, Prof Frikke-Schmidt cautioned that those adopting such a lifestyle should discontinue any medications they’ve been prescribed due to a risk of cardiac disease.
She opts for a diet mainly consisting of plant-based foods, supplemented with chicken and white fish for “my health, the environment and because I like it”.
Other nutritional plans, such as the Mediterranean diet, which includes meat, have also proven to be beneficial.
Prof Frikke-Schmidt asserted that meat need not be completely eliminated but “the important message is ‘plant-based'”, as this approach promotes both health and environmental conservation.
It’s worth mentioning that participants in the trials were served “healthy” vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes like chickpeas, and whole grains differ greatly from sweets, chips, and sweetened beverages, despite both categories being meatless.
“Not all plant-based diets are equal,” stated Prof Aedin Cassidy from Queen’s University Belfast. Additionally, diets with “those including refined carbohydrates, processed foods high in fat/salt” remain unhealthy.
Concerns have also arisen regarding the recent wave of highly processed vegan foods, a stark contrast to a vegan diet from the 1980s.
Chief scientific officer at the Quadram Institute, Prof Martin Warren, expressed: “Animal-based products such as meat do represent nutrient-dense foods that have other benefits.
“Similarly, crop-based diets can be low in certain micronutrients – so in general, reducing meat consumption but maintaining a broad and varied diet is good for health.”