Vegetarians Have Better Cholesterol

Many of us consider making changes to our diets to help our health. Something that is often discussed is eating less meat. That’s a hard adjustment to make for those of us who have stuck to a Western diet our whole lives. If you grow up thinking of a meal as meat and two vegetables, changing your idea to eating less meat or going vegetarian can be a bitter pill to swallow.

But, new research shows that across the board, vegetarians have better cholesterol levels than meat-eaters. That might make you interested in cutting back on meat or cutting it out completely. In the largest study of its kind, researchers looked at 19 health measurements in 178,000 people for five years. They found that, regardless of weight, income or lifestyle, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels were lower in the vegetarians. Their total cholesterol levels were 21 percent lower, and their LDL levels were 16.4 percent lower. However, another heart health factor, their triglycerides, were higher. An indicator of kidney function was also worse in the vegetarian group.  

Vegetarian and other [similar] dietary choices have become quite popular,” said Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales, the study’s lead researcher. “However, we don’t fully understand the health benefits of being a vegetarian compared to a meat eater.”

They found that the vegetarians had lower levels of 13 of the biomarkers they were looking at, meaning they had a lower risk for heart disease and cancer. But, the researchers know that people aren’t going to stop eating meat overnight. Instead, they suggested cutting down on meat and swapping it for oily fish as frequently as possible.

As so many studies have already shown that DASH and the Mediterranean diet are great for heart health, they might be better options for people who aren’t interested in going vegetarian. The fat in meat can raise your blood cholesterol, so when picking meat, go for lean cuts and options.

Choosing leaner meat or eating a Mediterranean diet or DASH is a better option than becoming vegetarian in an unhealthy way. One person on our team went vegetarian for a while but not in a healthy way. She set out with a goal of being healthy. But, instead of eating salads and a lot of vegetables, she found herself living off of tasty cheese and bread, gaining quite a bit of weight and feeling sluggish, unmotivated and unlike herself. Being a vegetarian is an excellent idea if you do it in a healthy way but, for a lot of people, cutting back on meat is a better plan than trying to stop completely!

Banner image: Brooke Lark via Unsplash
May 21, 2021
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