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Which Diet Is Better for the Heart — Mediterranean or Vegetarian?


According to a new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, the Mediterranean diet and the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which includes eggs and dairy products, are probably equally beneficial for the heart.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fish. It also contains some poultry but is limited in processed foods, sugar and red meat. The eating plan is similar to the vegetarian diet but differs mainly in its inclusion of fish and poultry.

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Earlier studies show both diets reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Therefore, researchers in Italy wanted to determine if changing to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet would be better for the heart of people who were accustomed to eating fish and meat.

“To best evaluate this issue, we decided to compare a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet with a Mediterranean diet in the same group of people,” said Francesco Sofi, M.D., Ph.D., lead study author and professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy.

The researchers recruited 100 overweight but healthy participants with low to moderate risks of cardiovascular disease. Half the group followed the Mediterranean diet, while the other half followed a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. After three months, they switched diets. All the individuals underwent health screenings during and after both phases.

Both Diets Are Beneficial for the Heart

Participants on both diets lost about 4 pounds of weight overall and about 3 pounds of body fat. The two groups also experienced similar reductions in body mass index, which is a weight-to-height ratio. However, two significant differences were noted: the vegetarian diets lowered bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol levels, more effectively; while the Mediterranean diet produced larger reductions in triglycerides, high levels of which raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The findings show that the two diets are likely equally healthful for the heart. “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,” Sofi said. “People have more than one choice for a heart-healthy diet.”

In an accompanying editorial, Cheryl A. M. Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of California in San Diego, said that the healthful foods found in the two diets are responsible for the results. She said they both involve “a healthy dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes [beans], whole grains and nuts; focusing on diet variety, nutrient density and appropriate amount of food; and limiting energy intake from saturated fats.”

The diets present a way for healthcare professions to “offer a possible solution to the ongoing challenges to prevent and manage obesity and cardiovascular diseases,” Anderson noted. She said future research should examine “whether or not healthful versions of traditional diets around the world that emphasize fresh foods and limit sugars, saturated fats, and sodium can prevent and manage obesity and cardiovascular diseases.”

Are Vegan Diets Also Good for the Heart?

Today reports that Sofi’s research on vegan diets, which contain no animal foods, has failed to show a cardiovascular benefit. For this reason, as well as for the fact that the vegan diet lacks adequate protein, vitamin B12 and certain minerals, Sofi doesn’t recommend it. Moreover, because the vegan diet is more restrictive than the vegetarian and Mediterranean diets, long-term adherence is more challenging.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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