Vegetarian diet may reduce risks for serious health problems

A new US study suggests that vegetarians may be at significantly lower risk of developing a condition associated with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke than people who eat meat.

Announced April 13, researchers found that vegetarians (those who eat meat of any kind less than once a month) experience a 36 percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, than non-vegetarians. To measure metabolic syndrome, researchers tested for five risk factors: high blood pressure, high HDL cholesterol, high glucose levels, elevated triglycerides, and an unhealthy waist circumference. The benefits of the herbivore diet also held up when adjusted for factors such as age, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.

"I was not sure if there would be a significant difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, and I was surprised by just how much the numbers contrast," said lead researcher Nico S. Rizzo, PhD, of Loma Linda University in the US. "It indicates that lifestyle factors such as diet can be important in the prevention of metabolic syndrome."

Another study supporting trending toward a plant-based diet, from the German Cancer Research Center in 2008, found that vegetarians reduced their risks of an early death by 50 percent for men and 30 percent for women.

A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry earlier this year also found that meat eaters had significantly higher cardiovascular risk factors than vegetarians, although it also revealed that a vegan diet, which eliminates all animal products, may increase people's risk of blood clots and the hardening of arteries - conditions that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers in the vegan study noted that strict vegan diets tend to lack key nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower the risk of heart-related diseases. Vegetarians and vegans can ensure the health benefits of their diets by filling their plates with good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and for vegetarians, omega-3 enriched eggs.

The new study is published in the March issue of American Diabetes Association's journal Diabetes Care.

Access the abstract here: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2011/03/13/dc10-1221.abstract?sid=70e077ed-d0a0-4cfb-a835-51d7277d831e

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