If you’re eating more plants and less meat in an attempt to improve your health, you’re making great strides. But does being vegetarian or vegan mean that you are healthy? No, it does not. The quality of food you eat no matter what you restrict plays a vital role in your health.
Lower risk of heart disease, higher risk of stroke
A study in the British Medical Journal of 48,000 people over 18 years has found that people who eat vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease and a higher risk of stroke. The vegans and vegetarians in the study had 10 fewer cases of heart disease and three more strokes per 1,000 people compared with the meat-eaters. With all the known health problems that come from meat and animal products in the diet, how can this be?
In the study, 24,000 were meat-eaters, just over 16,000 were vegetarian or vegan, and 7,500 were pescatarian (fish-eating).Medical history, smoking habits, and physical activity were also recorded. Over the 18 years of the study there were
2,820 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) and 1,072 incidences of stroke.
The pescatarianshad a 13% lower risk of CHD than the meat-eaters and the vegetarians and vegans had a 22% lower risk than the meat-eaters. The results for stroke however showed that vegans and vegetarians had a 20% higher risk of stroke. The reason for this finding is up for debate and requires more study. One idea is that it could be linked to lower levels of vitamin B12 but it could also be possible that it has nothing to do with diet at all but some other unknown factor common to vegans and vegetarians.
Vegan junk food
This study does not show that vegan and vegetarian diets are unhealthy but it does raise concerns over how these diets have changed over the past 20 years. With more and more people working to reduce their meat consumption, the offerings of vegan and vegetarian food products has skyrocketed. Processed foods, whether they contain meat or not, are linked to bowel cancers and obesity. People resorting often these boxed and frozen foods are not improving their health as much as they may think.
The study does say that whatever your dietary choice, eating a wide range of whole, foods that are processed as little as possible is best for health. Your diet should be as varied as possible, not the same meal over and over again. Here are their recommendations for a varied diet to obtain optimum nutrition and reduce processed foods:
– at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day,
– meals should centre around high-fibre starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, or whole-grain pasta,
– protein should come from beans/lentils/legumes, tofu or unsalted nuts and small amounts of lean meat, fish, seafood, if so inclined,
– small amounts of dairy or dairy alternatives,
– fat, sugars or salt should be included infrequently and in small amounts,
– vegans and vegetarians also need to take particular care to consume enough of some specific nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron.
Plan your meals so that most of your food is unprocessed. Anything that says ‘isolate’ or ‘extract’ or if you can’t identify many of the ingredients on the list, put it back on the shelf. Most of your food should come from the produce aisle! Your heart will thank you.
James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions. He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.