Monday, February 4, 2013

Vegetarians Have Healthier Hearts

Eating meat could affect your heart health.
Eating meat could affect your heart health.
Image: Shutterstock
It’s easy to assume that a diet full of lots of meat (protein) is healthy. In fact, many people feel a meal isn’t quite complete without at least a small serving of meat. But the truth is, meat’s not all it’s cracked up to be. No question about it, meat is a great source of protein—but it’s also a big source of saturated fat and sodium.

When it comes to ischemic heart disease, two of the main risk factors are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Saturated fat is the biggest dietary factor that contributes to the production of cholesterol. As for sodium, it’s the biggest dietary determinant of high blood pressure, according to Dr. Peter McCullough, cardiologist for St. John Providence Health System.

Eating meat could affect your heart health.
Vegetarian diets had a lower risk of heart disease.
Image: Shutterstock
Because a vegetarian diet leaves out meat, which can be full of sodium and saturated fat, vegetarians are 32% less likely to develop heart disease than meat eaters. This is according to a British study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study surveyed over 44,000 people, 34% of which were vegetarians.

Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need to become a vegetarian to cut saturated fat and sodium from their diets. It certainly makes it easier, but vegetarianism can also come with problems like not getting enough protein and consuming too many sugars. Cheese, which vegetarians tend to consume in larger amounts, is also a big source of saturated fat.

Meat can be full of sodium and saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease.
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Beef is the unhealthiest source of protein.
Being choosy about meat products can go a long way in lowering the chance of heart disease. Fish is the healthiest source of protein, followed by beans and nuts. The least healthy source of protein is beef, since it’s usually quite fatty. McCullough recommends staying away from the “three s-es:” sugars, starches, and saturated fats to lower health risks.

I generally eat about half my main courses vegetarian and the other half with a serving of meat. Do you eat meat, or are you a vegetarian? I’d love to hear your input in the comments below!