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A vegetarian diet may reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health

Category: Blood and Blood Diseases

One of the best things that people can do to keep their hearts healthy is to make sure their cholesterol levels are in check. According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol can slowly build up on the inner walls of the arteries that deliver blood to the heart and brain. The buildup can turn into plaque that hardens the arteries and makes them less flexible. This may lead to blood clots, stroke and a number of other serious issues. This is why everyone should regularly get cholesterol tests to make sure they have healthy levels of beneficial high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and low levels of low-density lipoprotein, the type that tends to cause cardiovascular problems.

Cholesterol primarily comes from the food people eat, which is why it's important to maintain a healthy diet. Organ meats, veal and beef are all very high in cholesterol, which is why these foods should only be eaten sparingly. In fact, recent research suggests that one of the best ways to protect the heart and keep cholesterol levels low is to eschew meat altogether.

Consider going veggie
Researchers from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford discovered that vegetarians have a substantially lower risk of heart disease than those who consume meat, and, furthermore, had healthier cholesterol levels than meat-eaters. The scientists came to this conclusion after study participants had their blood pressure recorded, and gave blood samples for cholesterol testing.

The researchers examined 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, of whom 34 percent were vegetarians. They discovered that when compared to people who consume meat or fish, vegetarians had a 32 percent reduced risk of being hospitalized or dying of heart disease. This is an extremely important finding, considering the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 935,000 Americans have a heart attack each year and 600,000 die of heart disease annually.

Furthermore, heart disease is both a health and financial issue in the U.S. The CDC adds that coronary heart disease - just one common cardiovascular issue - costs the U.S. $108.9 billion each year in medications, healthcare fees and loss of productivity.

This 32 percent reduced risk factor remained after researchers controlled for age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity and educational levels, all of which may also contribute to the likelihood of developing heart disease. The scientists added that the two main reasons why vegetarians have this lowered risk of heart disease are likely the reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels that typically come with consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

How to be a vegetarian
According to an article published by Harvard Health Publications, 6 to 8 million adults in the United States eat no meat, fish or poultry. If people want to improve their health, but are unsure if they want to fully commit to being a vegetarian, then they may want to simply try cutting out meat and fish for a month here and there. It's a good idea to start slowly, perhaps by cutting out red meat and pork first, and then slowing working toward eliminating chicken and fish.

Along with potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, studies have also suggested that vegetarians may be less likely to develop cancer compared to those who consume meat. According to the article published by Harvard Health Publications, this may have to do with the fact that vegetarians consume more fruits and vegetables, which are packed with healthy nutrients that may help reduce the risk of a number of conditions, including cancer.

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