As if we needed yet another reason to emphasize vegetables in our diets, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a new study from the University of Oxford showing that a vegetarian diet may reduce risk of death or hospitalization from heart disease by 32%. 45,000 participants were tracked from the early 90’s until 2009, reporting their dietary and lifestyle habits as well as having their blood pressure and cholesterol measured. Vegetarians had lower blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI, on average. Even after adjusting for the difference in BMI, vegetarians STILL had lower rates of heart disease. In other words, overweight vegetarians had less heart disease than overweight meat-eaters.
Vegetables are like the one foe that heart disease just can’t get a beat on.
The importance of this study lies in the observation of actual outcomes rather than just changes in biomarkers like weight, cholesterol or triglycerides. Not that those things don’t matter, but at the end of the day we’re trying to prolong life, not high HDL. Another study that produced similar outcomes-based results on a large scale and in support of “vegetables against heart disease” (and cancer for that matter) was the China Study; a 20-year epidemiological look at the dietary habits and disease incidence of 65 counties in rural China. More formally known as the China-Cornell-Oxford Project and led by Dr. T. Colin Cambell, its lessons just might convince you to give up that milk you have on your cereal every morning. The recent documentary Forks Over Knives nicely summarizes and conveys its message. If you haven’t heard of it, start reading… and watching. (←FREE on hulu)
So what does all this research really tell us? Basically, the less meat we eat and the more vegetables we eat, the healthier we’ll be. No, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Few things in the health world are. But “you’re the change you make” need not be so concrete either. No worries if you’re not ready to go completely vegetarian or vegan, just take a step in the right direction. If vegetables for you are French fries and pickles, add something more deliberate like salad greens or string beans (notice the green theme). If you’re more advanced, start incorporating a vegetarian meal now and then, or join the Meatless Monday movement and live without for an entire day of the week! Find a good blog with vegetarian recipes and meal ideas to inspire you. Always remember that you’re eating on a continuum. Every little change makes a difference!