October 1 marks World Vegetarian Day 2018, which takes place to raise awareness of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. With many people now considering at least reducing their meat intake, here we round up what research from the past year says about how a vegetarian diet may be able to boost health.
Lower risk of obesity
Research presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity (ECO) found that following a mainly plant-based diet could provide protection against obesity as we age, even if it is not completely vegetarian or vegan. Previous research has already suggested that vegan or vegetarian diets may cut the risk of obesity, with researchers at Erasmus MC Rotterdam in the Netherlands now finding that the participants who had higher scores on the plant-based diet index, but still ate some meat, had a lower BMI over the long term, as well as a lower waist circumference and body fat percentage.
Improved heart health
After comparing a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which includes eggs and dairy but excludes meat and fish, and a Mediterranean diet, which includes poultry, fish and some red meat, as well as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains in a recent study, Italian researchers found that both diets led to participants losing around four pounds of weight and experiencing about the same change in body mass index (BMI). In addition, the vegetarian diet was found to be more effective at reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet was better for reducing the level of triglycerides, leading the team to conclude that both are effective in reducing cardiovascular risk.
For those who are thinking of cutting down on meat rather than giving it up altogether, Canadian researchers have found yet more evidence to support the health benefits of a plant-based diet. After reviewing 112 trials a team at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto found that replacing just one to two servings of animal proteins with plant proteins each day — mainly soy, nuts and pulses such as dried peas and beans, lentils and chickpeas — for at least three weeks could help reduce three of the main cholesterol markers for cardiovascular disease prevention; LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which contributes to fatty buildups in arteries and raises the risk of cardiovascular disease; non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol; and apolipoprotein B, the proteins in bad cholesterol that clog arteries.
Lower risk of cancer
After a few studies have found a link between meat and a higher risk of certain cancers, UK research published earlier this year also found a potential of a link between eating red meat and a higher risk of developing a certain type of colon cancer. Carried out by an international team of researchers, the study set out to look at potential effects of red meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian diets on the risk of colon and rectal cancer. After gathering data from 32,147 British women aged 35-69 they found that although the number of women who developed colon or rectal cancer was small, those who ate a red meat-free diet appeared to have a slightly lower risk of developing distal colon cancer — cancer found on the last section of the colon — compared to those who ate red meat.