No matter what your reasons for eating a more vegetarian diet, there’s no denying the obvious health benefits that are derived from the elimination of red meat from your diet. On average, vegetarians have lower levels of the blood fats, cholesterol and triglycerides than meat eaters of similar age and social status have.
High levels of blood fats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, those who eat eggs and dairy products, which contain cholesterol-raising saturated fats and cholesterol, have higher cholesterol levels than do vegans, as those who abstain from all animal foods are called. But even among lacto-ovo vegetarians, cholesterol levels are generally lower than they are among meat eaters.
Researchers have found that older men who eat meat six or more times a week are twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who abstain from meat. Among middle-aged men, meat eaters were four times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack, according to the study.
As for women, who are partly protected by their hormones and generally develop heart disease later in life than men do, the risk of fatal heart disease has been found to be lower only among the older vegetarians. In a 1982 study of more than 10,000 vegetarians and meat eaters, British researchers found that the more meat consumed, the greater the risk of suffering a heart attack.
Though eliminating meat from the diet is likely to reduce your consumption of heart-damaging fats and cholesterol, substituting large amounts of high-fat dairy products and cholesterol-rich eggs can negate the benefit. To glean the heart-saving benefits of vegetarianism, consumption of such foods as hard cheese, cream cheese, ice cream and eggs should be moderate. And the introduction of more vegetables, fruits and raw foods will definitely enhance the benefits of abstaining from eating meat.