Mark Lawrence, a professor of public health nutrition at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, said that dietary guidelines have the best advice for vegetarians as well as for fish and meat eaters.
That’s because they consider dietary associations with multiple health outcomes — not just heart disease and stroke, said Lawrence, who co-authored an accompanying journal editorial.
“Shifting towards a plant-based diet can have personal and planetary health benefits, though it does not necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian,” he said.
For the study, Tong and her colleagues collected data on more than 48,000 men and women, average age 45, with no history of stroke or heart disease.
Among the participants were more than 24,000 meat eaters, about 7,500 pescatarians and more than 16,000 vegetarians and vegans.
During the 18 years of the study, nearly 3,000 people developed heart disease and more than 1,000 suffered a stroke. About 500 of the strokes were caused by blood clots in the brain (ischemic stroke) and 300 resulted from bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
The researchers accounted for factors such as medical history, smoking, use of dietary supplements, and physical activity, which can affect the risk for heart disease and stroke.
One U.S. dietitian noted that there are benefits to vegetarian diets — as long as you include vitamins that may be lacking.
“Vegans and strict vegetarians need to be mindful of obtaining certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids from their diet and supplements,” said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Not getting enough of these nutrients may increase the risk of certain health problems, she said.
“That said, a more plant-based approach to eating helps reduce the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes,” Heller said.
“You can’t go wrong cutting back on red and processed meats such as beef, pork and ham and adding lentils, chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, spinach or cauliflower to your meals,” Heller advised.