African-American vegetarians are at lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and even diabetes and high blood pressure, most likely from the healthy eating practices, says a new study from Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California.
The study looked at more than 26,000 black Seventh-day Adventists ranging from strict vegetarians to their meat-eating counterparts.
The subjects are part of the Loma Linda University Adventist long-term health study and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study, “Vegetarian diets and cardiovascular risk factors in black members of the Adventist Health Study-2,” is available in the journal, Public Health Nutrition.
Amont the many findings, the study found among vegetarians, a nearly 50 percent lower risk for hypertension, and a more than 40 percent less likelihood of obesity.
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Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University, said she doesn’t see the results as a question of race as much as proof that healthy eating is beneficial regardless of ethnic heritage.
“This study provides an indication that a vegetarian eating plan can reduce the risk of heart disease, but since the study is cross-sectional, and not a study to assess does the diet cause the reduced risk, more research is needed,” Diekman said in a written statement, “As a registered dietitian I can say that other studies do show the positive benefits of a vegetarian diet in improving overall health and weight.”
Loma Linda University is a Seventh-day Adventist institution. The study selected African-Americans from the denomination because members generally have lower rates of alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking, factors that could impact a cardiovascular study.
The study categorized subjects as: vegans, who abstain from any meat products; lacto-ovo vegetarians, who consume eggs and dairy; semi-vegetarians, who infrequently eat meat; pesco-vegetarians, those who eat fish but no meat; and non-vegetarians.
The study showed that black vegetarian Adventists were at less risk for hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, total cholesterol, and high blood-LDL cholesterol.
The study didn’t establish the cause and effect of the results, only that vegetarians were healthier than non-vegetarians. Researchers said cause and effect will be the target of future studies.
Researcher Patti Herring, associate professor of public health at Loma Linda University, said in a written statement, “Some findings for black Adventists are promising and we are anxious to compare black Adventist health with the general population of blacks.’’
She noted that the 26,000 participants is a vastly larger selection than other studies on Africa-American nutrition.
Lori Jones, coordinator of the MS in Nutrition and Dietetics program at St. Louis University, said “It didn’t surprise me what they found. We already knew the value of a vegetarian diet and plant-based foods …”
She found it interesting that the study showed that while vegetarians had better health numbers, there was little to no difference between people who ate a little meat, only fish, or people who ate meat at every meal.
She’s anxious to see more investigation because until 10 to 15 years ago, most studies included white men primarily. More diverse studies have been published in recent years that differentiate women and ethnic groups.
“A lot of what we knew about vegetarian diets hadn’t been studied in other populations,” she said.