Eating a 'semi-vegetarian' diet could reduce the risk of experiencing a stroke or heart attack, according to new research.
In a study of nearly half a million Europeans, scientists found people with the most pro-vegetarian diet (around 70 per cent from plant sources) had a 20 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared with those who ate the most meat (less than 40 per cent plant-based).
Dr Camille Lassale, lead author and an epidemiologist at Imperial College London's School of Public Health, explained that a pro-vegetarian diet involves increasing the proportion of vegetables consumed rather than making absolute recommendations about specific nutrients.
The study is based on data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, which began in 1992.
Some 451,256 people from ten countries, who were free of chronic diseases at the start of the study and aged between 35 and 70, were followed for 12 years on average.
Information was collected on height, weight, lifestyle and physical activity, while self-reported food frequency questionnaires were used to obtain dietary data. Record linkages with boards of health and active follow-up of participants enabled the scientists to ascertain dates and causes of death.
Participants were scored according to the types of food they ate, with points awarded for seven plant-based groups (vegetables, fruit, beans, cereals, potatoes, nuts, and olive oil) and subtracted for five animal groups (meats, animal fats, eggs, fish, and other seafood or dairy products).
They were then categorised from the most to the least pro-vegetarian, with results adjusted for age at the start of the study, gender, daily calories, body mass index, smoking status, physical activity, education, alcohol intake and study centre.
The relationship between eating habits and death risks from heart disease and stroke was then analysed, and was found to support the large body of evidence suggesting eating a plant-based diet lowers the risk of CVD.
"Instead of drastic avoidance of animal-based foods, substituting some of the meat in your diet with plant-based sources may be a very simple, useful way to lower cardiovascular mortality," Dr Lassale said.
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