DALLAS — Both vegetarian and Mediterranean diets have been touted for their heart-healthy benefits, including a lowered risk of heart disease — but is the plant-heavy diet necessarily the better one? For those who don’t want to give up their meat and fish, have no fear. A new study finds that going Mediterranean may be just as good for the heart as going vegetarian.
The research, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, shows that a low-calorie, “lacto-ovo-vegetarian” diet appears to prevent heart disease with the same effectiveness as a traditional Mediterranean diet. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet consists of no meat, but includes dairy and eggs. The Mediterranean diet includes poultry, fish, and small amounts of red meat, as well as vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains.
Researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of the two diets to help people who consider switching from one to the other.
“To best evaluate this issue, we decided to compare a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet with a Mediterranean diet in the same group of people,” says Dr. Francesco Sofi, lead study author and professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy, in a statement. “The take-home message of our study is that a low-calorie lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet can help patients reduce cardiovascular risk about the same as a low-calorie Mediterranean diet.”
For the study, 107 healthy, but overweight adults ages 18-75 were assigned to follow one of the two diets for three months, and then switch to the other for another tree months. The authors found that participants adhering to either diet lost about three pounds of body fat, four pounds of weight overall, and saw about the same change in body mass index.
In terms of significant differences, researchers found that the vegetarian diet proved to be better at lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Conversely, the Mediterranean diet showed larger reductions in triglycerides, which can boost one’s risk for heart attack or stroke.
Either way, the researchers agreed: “People have more than one choice for a heart-healthy diet,” says Sofi.
The full study was published Feb. 26, 2018 in the AMA journal Circulation.