First of all, the vegetarians in the study "were roughly 10 years younger [on average] than nonvegetarians," possibly skewing the results, said Dr. Stephen Green, associate chairman of the department of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital, in Manhasset, N.Y. He also believes that the populations studied may not be equivalent to the average American.
"These people are much thinner than Americans, smoke less and are more active," Green noted. "With respect to this study, the average BMI [body-mass index, a measure of weight vs. height] in this study is between 23 and 24, an increasingly rare number for Americans. For instance, this would be 6 foot tall, 173 pounds or 5 foot 3 inches and 132 pounds. These sort of weights are becoming increasingly uncommon in America."
But another expert said the health benefits of vegetarianism are well-established.
"'Eat your veggies!' is a favorite saying of mothers everywhere. Now that same quote may be the best advice as you leave your cardiologist's office in search of advice to reduce the risk of a heart attack," said Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital, in Mineola, NY.
Marzo also wondered about the effect on heart health of diets where meat and fish are lowered but not eliminated.
"Though not addressed in this important study, for those not ready for a meat-free diet, pesco-vegetarians (fish) and semi-vegetarians who limit animal products but still eat meat once or week or so, may have 'intermediate protection' against heart disease," he said.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health outlines steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCES: Stephen Green, M.D., associate chairman, department of cardiology, North Sh
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