It’s no secret that vegetables are good for you—they can even make you happier—but will shunning all meat (yes, that includes poultry) and fish earn you enough health points to make a vegetarian diet worth its weight in leafy greens?
Previous studies have hinted at the benefits of going meatless—on average, vegetarians have lower body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and saturated fat intake, as well as better cholesterol levels and a lower risk of death from heart disease.
A new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reinforces these benefits. When compared to meat and fish eaters, vegetarians have a 32 percent lower risk of developing ischemic heart disease, a category that includes heart attacks and chest pain.
This was true even when sex, smoking, physical activity and other heart disease risk factors, like diabetes, were taken into account.
The researchers suspect that the vegetarians’ improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels are behind the heart healthy benefits of vegetarian diets. Other factors may include a higher intake of nutrient-rich fruit, vegetables and whole grains, along with lower amounts of saturated fats like those found in meats.
If you aren’t ready to pass up your yearly plate of super spicy Super Bowl wings just yet, you can still reap some of the benefits of vegetarian diets with these simple tips:
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables by giving them the spotlight in meals and snacks, and bumping them ahead of meats and, of course, junk food.
- Cut back on saturated fat by eating leaner cuts of meat, and switching to low- or no-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Become a flexitarian, eating meat only occasionally—but still saving room for those spicy wings on a special occassion.