“Being vegetarian isn’t always healthy: Plant-based diet may raise the risk of heart disease,” the Daily Mail reports. A US study found a vegetarian diet based on less healthy food options, such as refined grains, could increase the risk of heart disease.
The researchers behind the latest study made the point that many previous diet and health studies “lumped together” all types of vegetarian diets as plant-based, without considering the actual content of specific diets. And not all plant-based diets are healthy and nutritious.
The researchers looked at data involving 200,000 health workers from the US and tried to analyse any link between diet and coronary heart disease.
Overall a high plant-based diet wasn’t linked with a clear benefit for heart disease risk compared with a low plant-based/high meat-based diet.
When the plant-based diets were broken down and analysed further, the researchers found interesting differences.
Those eating a “healthy” plant-based diet high in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats were less likely to get heart disease than people eating “unhealthy” plant-based diets including foods like potatoes, refined grains and sweets.
While the study can’t rule out the possibility that other health and lifestyle factors such as stress, job type and education could have influenced the links, the association between unhealthy plant-based diets and heart disease is plausible.
The diet advice for vegetarians is the same for everyone else: eat a balanced diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, eat less sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and choose wholegrain carbohydrates where possible.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, AbbVie (a pharmaceutical company), and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, all in the US. It was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, US Department of Agriculture/Blueberry Highbush Council and the California Walnut Commission, and Metagenic. One author has served on the Scientific Advisory Committees of IKEA, Take C/O, and SPE, and another is also an employee of AbbVie.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The Daily Mail’s reporting was generally accurate, but the statement claiming “refined grains and potatoes lead to a higher risk of cardio-metabolic disease” is not entirely representative. These were just two of a wide variety of foods included in the “unhealthy plant-based diet.” Neither does this statement account for the fact that there may be many other health and lifestyle factors other than diet contributing to coronary heart disease risk.
Other diet options