New Heart Disease Findings Suggest Meatless Meals Could Cut Health Care Costs
Scientific Review Finds Vegan Diet More Effective than ‘Lean Meat’ Approach in Fight Against America’s Number One Killer; Congress Urged to Take Findi
WASHINGTON—A scientific review in October’s American Journal of Cardiology finds that vegetarian and vegan diets rich in nuts, soy, and fiber cut cholesterol and triglyceride levels more effectively than other dietary approaches commonly used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, America’s number one killer. Study co-author Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H., says these findings have clear implications for the debate over health care reform.
In “The Effects of Plant-Based Diets on Plasma Lipids,” Dr. Ferdowsian and her co-authors reviewed 27 previously published scientific studies and compared the effects of four diet interventions on cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet combined with nuts, soy, and fiber experienced the greatest reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including up to a 35 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Dietary interventions including small amounts of lean meat were less effective at reducing total cholesterol and, thus, preventing a cardiac event.
“If we don’t find ways to cut the cost of treating cardiovascular disease, our health care system is headed for intensive care,” says Dr. Ferdowsian, associate director of the Washington Center for Clinical Research. “Heart-healthy plant-based diets could dramatically reduce spending on cholesterol-lowering drugs, cardiac surgery, and blood pressure medication.”
Between 2003 and 2005, the federal government spent more than $20 billion subsidizing corn, soybean, and sorghum, mainly for animal feed, and an additional $1.3 billion for dairy subsidies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently purchased $30 million of surplus pork products for distribution to schools and other institutions.
More than 48 percent of the adult population in the United States has total cholesterol levels above the desirable upper limit established by the National Cholesterol Education Program. High blood pressure affects 74 million Americans; coronary heart disease affects 17 million. Diseases related to high cholesterol, including heart disease, vascular disease, and stroke, account for more than 885,000 deaths and $634.2 billion in direct and indirect costs annually.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.
Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H
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