A vegetarian or vegan diet is no healthier than one that includes meat unless those who follow it cut out junk food, a study has revealed.
It found that following a ‘plant-based’ diet is pointless if people continue to eat processed, sugar-laden food.
The Greek researchers said avoiding sweets, fruit juice and refined grains such as white bread and white flour is key.
Those who ate lots of processed food suffered poor health whether or not they had gone vegan, vegetarian or simply cut back on meat.
Researcher Professor Demosthenes Panagiotakos, from the Harokopio University of Athens, said: ‘It seems that simply following a plant-based or vegetarian diet is not enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.’
Presenting the findings at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session, he added: ‘It is also important to focus on specific, healthful plant-based food groups to see a benefit in terms of reducing cardiovascular disease.’ The ten-year study of 2,000 people focused on those who follow only plant-based diets, split into healthy and unhealthy foods.
Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, oils, tea and coffee, while unhealthy foods included juices, sweetened drinks, potatoes, sweets and refined grains.
The researchers found only those following healthy plant-based diets had a ‘significant reduction in cardiovascular risk’ compared with those consuming more animal-based products.
Men were 25 per cent and women 11 per cent less likely to develop heart disease if they ate fewer animal-based foods compared with those eating more meat and dairy products.
Professor Panagiotakos said: ‘These findings highlight that even a small reduction in daily consumption of animal-based products – principally the less healthy foods such as processed meat products – accompanied by an increase in healthy plant-based foods may contribute to better cardiovascular health.’
He suggested snacking on healthy foods can be beneficial. Women tend to snack around five times daily and showed a ‘dramatic increase’ in heart disease risk when eating unhealthy plant-based diets, compared with a ‘more dramatic’ reduction in risk to men who snack three times daily.
Music can help to significantly ease the pain of those suffering from heart-related illnesses, according to another study presented at the same conference.
Researchers from the University of Belgrade School of Medicine in Serbia tracked 350 people who had suffered a heart attack and were still experiencing chest pain.
The study, conducted over seven years, found those who listened to music they enjoyed for at least half an hour a day experience less pain and anxiety.
It also cut repeat problems, including an 18 per cent reduction in the rate of heart failure.
It is believed to work by reducing heart rate and blood pressure through relaxation.