Removing meat from your diet may lower blood pressure and therefore reduce your risk of heart disease, according to a new study conducted by a professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
In the first meta-analysis of its kind, Dr. Neal Barnard and his team of researchers compared the blood pressure of more than 21,000 people involved in various observational studies and clinical trials. They found that participants who maintained a plant-based diet, from vegan to pescetarian to semi-vegetarian, were associated with lower blood pressure readings.
A healthy person should have a systolic blood pressure less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mmHg—any higher doubles the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
In the study, vegetarians reported a systolic blood pressure about 7 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure 5 mmHg lower than participants who ate meat. The lower blood pressure readings mean huge health benefits: A reduction of 5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure leads to a 9 percent reduced risk of heart disease and a 14 percent reduced risk of stroke.
Why is a vegetarian diet so effective at lowering blood pressure? For one, vegetarians often have lower BMIs compared with omnivores, thanks to the higher fiber intake and lower saturated fat levels of plant-based diets. In addition, vegetarians typically consume a high amount of potassium, which, along with exercise, directly correlates with lower blood pressure.
The findings support the idea that those who suffer from hypertension don’t have to rely solely on medicine, said Barnard in a statement. “Let’s write prescriptions for plant-based foods,” he said. Switching to a plant-based diet promotes healthy side effects, such as weight loss, lower blood pressure, and the presence of good cholesterol, he added.
However, more research is needed to find out whether certain vegetarian diets are more effective in reducing blood pressure than others, researchers noted.
The full study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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