A review of four decades of research demonstrates that a diet dominated by plants is beneficial to cardiac health. Researchers in Denmark discovered that vegetarian and vegan diets reduce the blood levels of cholesterol and lipids that contribute to heart attacks.
The effect, which was roughly equivalent to a third of that of daily narcotic use, was described as "extremely significant." However, according to experts, meat and dairy have their own health benefits and not all vegetarian diets are considered healthy.
The study compiled the results of 30 studies conducted since 1982 in which scientists administered a predetermined diet to volunteers and monitored its effect on their cardiac health. There were roughly 2,400 participants from all over the world. High levels of bad cholesterol cause the accumulation of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which can contribute to heart attacks or strokes.
The findings, which were published in the European Heart Journal, demonstrated that vegetarian and vegan diets have 10% less harmful cholesterol, 7% reduction in total cholesterol and 14% reduction in apolipoprotein B, the primary protein in poor cholesterol
Prof. Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, who conducted the research at Rigshospitalet in Denmark, told sources that this corresponds to a third of the effect of a cholesterol-lowering statin [drug]; thus, it's quite significant.
Diets would have needed to be monitored for years or decades in order to determine the effects of this change in blood. Prof. Ruth Frikke-Schmidt estimated that maintaining this diet for 15 years could reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease by 20% using data from statin trials.
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease kills nearly 18 million individuals annually. Despite the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Prof. Frikke-Schmidt cautioned that people who follow such a diet should not stop taking prescribed medications because they are at risk for cardiac disease.
She opts for a predominantly plant-based diet, supplemented with chicken and white fish. Other meat-containing diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have also been demonstrated to be healthy. Prof. Frikke-Schmidt stated that meat does not need to be eliminated, but that "the important message is 'plant-based' as this is beneficial to both health and the environment. However, it should be noted that participants in the trials were given "healthy" vegetarian and vegan diets.
Despite being meat-free, vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses such as chickpeas, and whole grains are very distinct from sweets, chips, and sugary beverages. Prof. Aedin Cassidy from Queen's University Belfast stated that not all plant-based diets are equal. Diets that consist of refined carbohydrates and processed foods elevated in fat/salt would continue to be unhealthy.
There have also been concerns regarding the current trend of highly processed vegan foods, which differ significantly from the vegan diet of the 1980s. Prof. Martin Warren, chief scientific officer of the Quadram Institute, stated, "Animal-based products such as meat are nutrient-dense diets with additional benefits. Likewise, plant-based diets can be deficient in particular micronutrients. Therefore, it is generally beneficial to consume less meat while maintaining a varied diet.