According to a new major study people who eat vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease and a higher risk of stroke.
The research, published in the British Medical Journal looked at 48,000 people for up to 18 years. The study participants had 10 fewer cases of heart disease and three more strokes per 1,000 people compared with the meat-eaters.
Half of participants, recruited between 1993 and 2001, were meat-eaters, just over 16,000 vegetarian or vegan, with 7,500 who described themselves as pescetarian.
They were asked about their diets, when they joined the study and again in 2010. Medical history, smoking and physical activity were also taken into account. Altogether, there were 2,820 cases of coronary heart disease and 1,072 cases of stroke.
The pescetarian were found to have a 13% lower risk of heart disease than the meat-eaters, while the vegetarians and vegans had a 22% lower risk. But those on plant-based diets had a 20% higher risk of stroke. The researchers suggested this could be linked to low vitamin B12 levels but said more studies were needed to investigate the connection.
It is also possible that the association may have nothing to do with people’s diets and may just reflect other differences in the lives of people who do not eat meat.
So, what should we eat?
The Eatwell Guide produced by the NHS in the UK sets out the balance of foods you need, whatever kind of diet you eat. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Base meals around high-fibre starchy foods such as potatoes, wholemeal bread, brown rice or pasta;
- Avoid processed meats;
- Oily fish, seafood, pulses, tofu or unsalted nuts are the best protein sources;
- Include dairy or dairy alternatives;
- Foods high in fat, sugars or salt should be eaten less often and in small amounts.
People on vegan and vegetarian diets also need to take particular care to consume enough of some specific nutrients. For example, people who eat meat, dairy and fish usually have enough vitamin B12, needed for healthy blood and nervous systems.
However, vegans can become deficient, though B12 is also present in foods such as fortified breakfast cereals and yeast extract spreads. Also, iron is also less easily absorbed from plant-based foods, so those who choose not to eat meat need to ensure they include foods such as wholemeal bread and flour, dried fruits and pulses.
Being Vegan and Vegetarian can work as long as we understand everything we need to know about living with being vegan and/or vegetarian. When we play around with our food and cut out food groups, it can affect how we physically and mentally function.
Our lifestyles play a part in how we will function and think food also plays a big part, particularly if meat and meat products are consumed in high quantities.
A balanced diet is what we should be aiming for, or as near to balanced as we can get.