Different paths to the same goal: Vegetarian and Mediterranean diets both proven to prevent heart disease
03/15/2018 // Tracey Watson // Views

Heart disease claims more American lives than any other disease. A quarter of all deaths in our country are caused by heart disease. Close to 800,000 people have a first heart attack each year, and it kills over half a million people annually.

There are many theories about how best to prevent coronary conditions, but it is generally understood that there is a clear link between obesity and heart disease, and the best way to prevent it is to maintain a healthy weight.

This naturally leads to the question of how best to accomplish this goal. There are several contenders for best diet for your heart, but two of the leading options are the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (excludes meat and fish but includes eggs and dairy) and the Mediterranean diet (rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, fish and poultry, and includes red wine and some red meat).

As reported by Science Daily, a recent study by researchers from the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy has made the surprising discovery that both these diets effectively reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The study was published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

The study included 107 volunteers aged between 18 and 75 who were all overweight but otherwise healthy. Half the participants were assigned to follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, while the other half followed the Mediterranean way of eating. After three months, the volunteers were asked to switch to the opposite eating plan for a further three months. (Related: Vegetarian diets found to be the most effective way to lose weight, reveals new study.)


Irrespective of which diet they followed, the participants all lost around 3 pounds of body fat and 4 pounds of overall weight. Their body mass indexes (BMIs) also changed by about the same amount.

There were other fundamental differences between the volunteers’ results, however. Those who followed the vegetarian diet were more successful at lowering their LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels, while those who had followed the Mediterranean diet experienced greater reductions in triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat lipid in the blood, and elevated levels are an indicator of an increased risk of heart disease.

“The take-home message of our study is that a low-calorie lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet can help patients reduce cardiovascular risk about the same as a low-calorie Mediterranean diet," said Francesco Sofi, the study’s lead author. "People have more than one choice for a heart-healthy diet.” (Related: Mediterranean diet, olive oil and nuts improve brain health, memory and thinking ability.)

Cheryl A. M. Anderson, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study but who wrote an editorial accompanying it, noted that one possible reason for the similarity in results between the two eating plans is that both include a rich variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and legumes. Both plans also limit saturated fats and are rich in an array of nutrients. (Related: Discover the myriad benefits of good food at Nutrients.news.)

The study results are limited, however, in that none of the participants was at high risk of heart disease at the time the study was conducted. Anderson noted that further studies would need to be undertaken to evaluate whether patients at higher risk of cardiovascular disease would also benefit in a similar way to following one of these eating plans. She also noted that further investigation should be undertaken to see whether other diets, including those that “emphasize fresh foods and limit sugars, saturated fats, and sodium can prevent and manage obesity and cardiovascular diseases” just as effectively.

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