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Only one in ten Americans consume enough fruits and veggies, which is a crucial path to good health. According to a recent study, those with high cholesterol can reap the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables.
Researchers examined levels of LDL or low-density Lipoproteins, which are often referred to as 'bad' cholesterol due to their ability increase the risk for stroke and heart disease. The study found that LDL levels fell 10% and total cholesterol dropped 7% in study participants who followed a plant-based lifestyle compared to those who consumed both meat and vegetables.
This is equivalent to taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs for a third of a year. It would also result in a 7 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease risk in a person who maintains a plant-based lifestyle.
Frikke Schmidt said that he found similar results among people of different ages and body mass indexes. He also noted that the results were consistent across continents. If people begin eating a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle at an early age, they can reduce their risk of heart disease due to blocked arteries.
The analysis was based upon the results of 30 randomized trials. Over 2,300 were published between 1982-2022. These studies examined the impact of vegan or vegetarian diets on cholesterol of all kinds and apolipoprotein B, a blood protein considered to be an accurate measure of bad fats and cholesterol in the body.
The authors claim that this meta-analysis was the first to examine the effects of diet on apoB concentrations. The results showed that being vegan or a vegetarian was associated with 14% lower levels of apolipoprotein.
In a press release, Tracy Parker, senior dietitian with the British Heart Foundation, Birmingham, stated that 'this large analysis confirms what we already knew: including more plant-based food in your diet is beneficial for your heart'. She was not involved in the study.
The study showed that diet may have a limited impact on people whose livers are genetically predisposed to producing too much cholesterol. This means that high cholesterol levels are more strongly affected by our genes than our diet.
Storey, an expert who wasn't involved in the research, said that statins were needed to block cholesterol in those who had a higher risk or already experienced a heart disease, stroke, or another illness linked to cholesterol buildup in blood vessel walls.
Frikke Schmidt said that statin treatment was superior to plant-based eating in terms of lowering cholesterol and fat levels. She added that statins and plant-based diets can have a synergistic impact, which will result in a greater benefit.
Expert advice on how to start a plant-based lifestyle
Duane Mellor is a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow in the Medical School of Aston University, Birmingham, UK.
Mellor, a researcher who wasn't involved in the study, said that it's useful to talk to a professional about dietary changes. This will ensure they are nutritionally balanced, address any health concerns, and, ideally, be enjoyable.
People who switch to a vegan diet should also be aware of the types of food they consume.
Aedin Cassidy is professor and director for inter-disciplinary research at Queen's University Belfast's Institute for Global Food Security. He said in a press release that not all plant-based foods are the same.
Cassidy said that only healthy plant-based foods, which include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains improve health. Other plant diets, such as those high in refined carbohydrates, processed food, and sugar, salt, and fat, do not. These foods include popular items like french fries, fried doughnuts and other sweets and bakery products.
Parker suggested that if people are having trouble adapting to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle they should try the Mediterranean diet. This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and little eggs, minimal low-fat milk and very little meat.
Parker stated in a press release that there is 'considerable evidence' that this diet can lower your risk of heart and circulatory disease by improving cholesterol, blood pressure, reducing inflammation and controlling blood sugar levels.