It’s Official: Vegan and Vegetarian Diets Really Help Lower Cholesterol
According to a new study, “Starting plant-based eating early decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends eating at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, only 13.9 percent of European Union citizens meet this target, according to Eurostat. If we look at Portugal, 79.3 percent of the population consumes at least one portion of fruit and vegetables a day. And 61.3 percent eat between one and four servings. Still, only 18 percent consume five servings of these foods daily. Now, however, there are new reasons to put pears, apples and bananas on upcoming shopping lists.
an investigation published on May 24 reveals that eating fruit is beneficial for anyone diagnosed with high cholesterol. In the study “Vegetarian or vegan diets and blood lipids: a meta-analysis of randomized trials”, investigators analyzed levels of LDL (or low-density lipoproteins), often called bad cholesterol (because their accumulation can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease).
Surprisingly (or not), among participants who followed on a plant-based diet — compared to those eating meat and vegetables — LDL levels dropped by 10 percent. “This is one-third the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins, and would result in a 7 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in someone following a plant-based diet for five years,” he says. the study’s lead author, Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, professor of clinical biochemistry and chief physician at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“It is important to note that we found similar results across continents, ages, different ranges of body mass index and among people with different health statuses”, stresses Frikke-Schmidt. “If people start eating vegetarian or vegan diets at an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by blocked arteries is substantial.”
The analysis was based on results from 30 randomized clinical trials, among more than 2300 of them published between 1982 and 2022. These studies investigated the impact of vegetarian or vegan diets on all types of cholesterol and on apolipoprotein B (apoB), a protein in the blood considered a good measure of how much bad fat and cholesterol is in the body. The results of the most recent study showed that being vegan or vegetarian was associated with a 14 percent reduction in apolipoprotein B levels.
“This big review confirms what we already knew: including more plant-based foods in your diet is good for your heart,” says Tracy Parker, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation in Birmingham.
However, the study also underlines that the impact of these diets on LDL levels may be limited for people who “inherit the tendency of their livers to produce too much cholesterol, which means that high cholesterol is more strongly influenced by our genes ( DNA) than our diet,” says Robert Storey, professor of cardiology at the University of Sheffield in the UK.
Vegetarian and vegan diets have a lot of benefits, but they also raise a lot of questions. Stopping eating meat and fish, what should our food be like? Often the answer points to legumes with a higher protein content, such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. Others opt for plant-based alternatives that resemble meat, such as seitan.
Please also read this article and find out if the “gluten steak” of vegans and vegetarians will be that healthy.
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