The Mediterranean diet is hailed to be one of the best and healthiest diets. It is rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts and is low on processed foods, refined sugars and saturated fats.
In a new study, a team of researchers compared this Mediterranean diet with vegetarian diet. They found that both diets are equally heart-healthy. The study results were published in the latest issue of the journal Circulation.
Image Credit: Kiian Oksana / Shutterstock
The study was titled CARDIVEG (Cardiovascular Prevention with Vegetarian Diet) trial and was conducted between 2014 and 2015 in Florence. The team of Italian researchers included 118 overweight but healthy adults (between ages 18 and 75 years) who had low-to-moderate heart disease risk (<5% at 10 years). Around 78 percent of the participants were females and their average BMI was at or above 25.
They were divided into two groups. One half was started on a Mediterranean diet while the other half was started on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. This type of diet is vegetarian but includes eggs and dairy but excludes fish and meat from the diet. The individuals were regularly screened for three months and were asked not to alter their lifestyle in any manner during the study. At the end of three months, their diets were exchanged. They were again monitored for three months. Both diets showed a reduction is cholesterol. However vegetarian diet reduced the “bad” LDL cholesterol in blood while Mediterranean diet reduced the triglycerides from the blood. Both of these components of cholesterol are deemed to be bad for the heart raising the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Thus both diets were found to be equally beneficial for the heart. According to study authors, vegetarian diets are richer in carbohydrates and that may be the reason why they fail to reduce triglycerides as effectively as Mediterranean diets.
Further both the diets were equally effective in helping the participants lose weight. On either diet, the participants lost an average of four pounds of weight and most of it was fat. The difference in reduction of Body Mass Index (BMI) with the two diets was 0.03kg/m² only. Difference in weight loss with the two diets was also miniscule at 0.11 kg. Similarly difference in body fat loss comparing the two diets was only 0.23 kg. The two diets thus did not differ statistically in terms of weight loss, BMI reduction and body fat loss.
Study author Francesco Sofi, an associate professor of food science and clinical nutrition at the University of Florence in Italy explained that this study shows that if a person can follow either a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet or Mediterranean diet for three months, he or she can garner heart health benefits and reduce risk of heart disease.
According to an accompanying editorial with the article, by Cheryl A. M. Anderson, PhD, MPH, of the University of California, San Diego, these findings were expected since both the diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes and low on processed foods, saturated fats and refined sugars. What the vegetarians miss out in terms of fish and lean meat is made up for with legumes, eggs, dairy and nuts, she writes.
Sofi concludes that these are two good dietary options for a healthy heart as well as for prevention of other diseases and both are “quite equally beneficial.”