Vegetarian and Mediterranean diet may be equally effective in preventing heart disease


February 26, 2018


American Heart Association


Low-calorie lacto-ovo-vegetarian and Mediterranean
diets appeared equally effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk
factors. Both diets reduced body fat and overall weight by the same amount.
Those on the vegetarian diet experienced greater reductions in LDL (‘bad’)
cholesterol while those on the Mediterranean diet experienced greater
reductions in triglycerides than those on the other diet.







A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which includes eggs and
dairy but excludes meat and fish, and a Mediterranean diet are likely equally
effective in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to new
research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Previous separate studies have shown that a
Mediterranean diet reduces certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as
does a vegetarian diet; however, this was the first study to compare effects of
the two distinct eating patterns

Current study authors said they wanted to evaluate
whether switching to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet would also be heart-healthy in
people who were used to eating both meat and fish. “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 study included 107 healthy but overweight
participants, ages 18-75, who were randomly assigned to follow for three months
either a low-calorie vegetarian diet, which included dairy and eggs, or a
low-calorie Mediterranean diet for three months. The Mediterranean diet
included poultry, fish and some red meat as well as fruits, vegetables, beans
and whole grains. After three months, the participants switched diets. Most
participants were able to stay on both diets.

Researchers found participants on either diet:

  • lost about 3 pounds of body fat;
  • lost about 4 pounds of weight overall; and
  • experienced about the same change in body mass index, a
    measure of weight in relationship to height.

Authors said they did find two differences between
the diets that may be noteworthy. The vegetarian diet was more effective at
reducing LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet
resulted greater reductions in triglycerides, high levels of which increase the
risk for heart attack and stroke.

Still, “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 editorial accompanying the study, Cheryl A. M.
Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., an associate professor of preventive medicine at
the University of California, San Diego, in California, wrote that there were
similarities between the two diets that may explain the results. Both follow
“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.”

Anderson, who was not involved in the study, added that
promoting both diets by healthcare professionals “offer a possible
solution to the ongoing challenges to prevent and manage obesity and
cardiovascular diseases.”

Study limitations include the fact that participants
were at “relatively low” risk of cardiovascular disease. Anderson
said future research should compare the diets in patients at higher risk for
heart disease and should also explore “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


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Journal Reference:

  1. Francesco Sofi, Monica Dinu, Giuditta Pagliai, Francesca
    Cesari, Anna Maria Gori, Alice Sereni, Matteo Becatti, Claudia Fiorillo,
    Rossella Marcucci, Alessandro Casini. Low-Calorie Vegetarian Versus
    Mediterranean Diets for Reducing Body Weight and Improving Cardiovascular
    Risk Profile: CARDIVEG Study (Cardiovascular Prevention With Vegetarian
    . Circulation, 2018; CIRCULATIONAHA.117.030088 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.030088