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Vegetarian diet may lower your blood pressure
A cup of edamame contains 676 mg of potassium, which may help lower your blood pressure.
February 24th, 2014
04:01 PM ET

Vegetarian diet may lower your blood pressure

Nearly a third of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Often called the "silent killer" because it provides few warning signs, hypertension increases a patient's risk for heart attack and stroke.

New research suggests eating a vegetarian diet could help combat this deadly disease.

A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 mm HG. Previous studies have shown that each increase of 20/10 mm Hg in that number doubles the patient's risk of cardiovascular disease. But lowering that top number just 5 mm HG can reduce your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by about 7%. And eating more fruits and vegetables may be a good way to do that, according to the new study, published Monday in the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Terms to know

Systolic blood pressure - the top number on your BP reading - measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart muscle contracts, or beats.

Diastolic blood pressure - the bottom number on your BP reading - measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart is still and refilling with blood.

The study

Researchers analyzed data from seven previously published clinical trials and 32 observational studies. A total of 311 participants were involved in the clinical trials. More than 21,000 participants were assessed in the observational studies.

The researchers only used data from studies that examined the association between a vegetarian diet and blood pressure. A range of diets were studied, including semivegetarian, vegan, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian and pesco-vegetarian.

The results

In the seven clinical trials, participants following a vegetarian diet had a systolic blood pressure that was 4.8 mm Hg lower on average than their omnivore counterparts'. The vegetarians' diastolic blood pressure was lower by an average of 2.2 mm Hg.

In the observational studies, the difference was slightly bigger. A vegetarian diet was associated with an average decrease of 6.9 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and 4.7 mm HG for diastolic blood pressure.

Why?

Many factors could be affecting the vegetarians' blood pressure. Vegetarian diets are often lower in sodium and saturated fats, while being higher in fiber and potassium.

Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass indexes because fruits and vegetables are less energy dense - meaning you can eat more of them for fewer calories.

Study limitations

The definition of a "vegetarian diet" differs from person to person, so the researchers can't tell you how much meat is too much. Some of the observational studies also did not adjust for lifestyle factors such as exercise or alcohol intake that could have affected the results.

Two of the researchers are affiliated with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for plant-based diets.

Takeaway

Eating more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet could help lower your blood pressure, says study author Dr. Neal Barnard. You should also try to limit your sodium intake, exercise regularly and avoid drinking alcohol excessively.


soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. cali girl

    Really a no brainer. All of the Vegetarians out there I am familiar with have no major health issues, except a couple of them are not into exercise so it would be good to know if exercise was critical.

    February 24, 2014 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. paizleysun

    I know someone who is a vegetarian. She consumes a lot of cheese, butter, and eggs. She is very overweight, diabetic, hypertensive, and has a horrible lipid profile. She also smokes and drinks red wine like there's no tomorrow. And the point of this is...

    February 24, 2014 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cara

      She eats milk, butter and eggs??? She is NOT a vegetarian.

      February 24, 2014 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
    • Artemis MA

      Cara, she IS a vegetarian. She is, however, not a vegan.

      February 24, 2014 at 21:02 | Report abuse |
    • get realist

      "And the point of this is...."

      Check out that last paragraph in the article.

      "Eating more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet could help lower your blood pressure"

      ... what was YOUR point again?

      February 25, 2014 at 10:56 | Report abuse |
    • Yash

      Technically she is vegetarian as she does not eat meat. But she has to eat vegetables to be vegetarian and more you eat those, more vegetarian you are. Also, French fries do not count as vegetables – or for that matter anything fried won't help your BP ;-)

      February 26, 2014 at 00:59 | Report abuse |
    • Vegan Dave

      No paizleysun, your over-weight, so-called vegetarian friend that eats eggs, cheese and dairy IS NOT a vegetarian. that is, eggs, cheese and other dairy DO NOT come from vegetables, right? The health benefits come from being a REAL vegetarian (a total vegetarian).

      April 23, 2014 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
  3. celisti

    i have been vegetarian for a few years, and i am also mostly eating gluten-free, and don't eat much eggs, cheese or dairy products often at all. i am very lean and fit and have normal blood pressure...

    the problem with some fat vegetarians is that they don't give up sugar, sodas and cheese, plus eating tons of breads, which guranttees gaining weight.

    February 24, 2014 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Artemis MA

      This is true. I once knew a "vegetarian" who gained about 40 pounds in the first year - mainly because when she gave up meat she didn't start eating vegetables. More accurately, she was a "starchitarian", and didn't get further into the vegetable kingdom than salsa, cakes and a wealth of potatoes.

      February 24, 2014 at 21:04 | Report abuse |
    • mattk

      uuugghhhh
      Eating bread doesn't guarantee you will gain weight. Sitting on your butt will guarantee this though
      If you eat a diet with a decent amount of carbs and you don't work it off yes you will put on weight. This is also true with anything else. Carbohydrates act in your body to store energy (basically) so if you don't exercise that energy doesn't go anywhere. So eating carbs doesn't equal putting on weight, being lazy equals putting on weight.

      February 24, 2014 at 21:51 | Report abuse |
    • Artemis MA

      mattk, my friend didn't change her activity level (to greater or lesser) when she went vegetarian. It was subbing in the cakes and starches and NO veggies other than salsa that led to her weight gain. Personally (as an omnivore), I've lost weight by cutting out the sugars and most of the starches, and adding in more green leafies and nutritious vegetables in place, not of meat or seafood, but of the sugars and the starches. (And my triglyceride etc. panel is now extremely optimal). I'm active, but probably not much more than before. (Blood pressure remains the same, which for a 60 year old woman is at the peak level for that.)

      February 25, 2014 at 07:50 | Report abuse |
  4. Jessica Frost

    Moving towards a plant-based diet is key to optimal health. I'm glad to hear about heart-health benefits of a well-planned, vegetarian diet.

    February 24, 2014 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dan

    This study is a product of Dr. Neil Barnard and the PCRM, who have spent several decades cherry picking and distorting evidence to support their theology of no animal products whatsoever.

    February 25, 2014 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ptmom02

      They are truly loonie toons and have an agenda.

      February 25, 2014 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      They totally have an agenda. It's like they want people to be healthy without prescription drugs, or something insane like that.

      February 26, 2014 at 16:47 | Report abuse |
  6. LeeMT

    Health reports like this always use the word"may". This or that "may" prevent Alzheimers. "May" help you lose weight. "May" lower cholesterol. In this manner, ou could also say cat food "may" cure cancer.

    February 25, 2014 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JC

      Statisticians use the word "may." It's called "probability." Is everything in your universe always 100% certain 100% of the time? Must be an interesting place to live. Every cloud always produces rain; every lottery ticket always wins the jackpot; etc.

      A vegetarian diet "may" lower your BP. Or it may not. But common sense says that they are saying there's a good probability that it will. That still allows some room for the wackos who think vegetarianism means living off of super-size fries. But not, apparently, in your universe.

      February 25, 2014 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
    • Vegan Dave

      Cat food isn't a cure for cancer? :-)

      A vegan diet will for sure (not may) do a lot for improving your health and virtually every study indicates that is the case.

      I have been vegan for about 16 years (I've lost track a little) and in my late 50s, I live totally and completely without drugs of any kind. My cholesterol hovers around 120, my BMI at 20 to 21, my body fat is a bit over 8%. I have gone as long a ten years without as much as catching a cold (my system is enhanced by good diet and I don't get antibiotics through meat and dairy). Some say that a vegan diet results in less energy, but I run, hike, canoe tour, kayak, backpack, downhill ski, cross country ski, bicycle as much as work allows.

      April 23, 2014 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  7. JG

    Everyone should already know this. If people would educate themselves on WHAT they are eating, instead of how much they think it tastes good, how many people would choose to continue eating dead animals? Think about that– dead animals in your mouth. As Jimmy Fallon would say, "EEEWWW!"

    February 25, 2014 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • danab1234

      You cook them first. Mmmm.

      February 25, 2014 at 23:17 | Report abuse |
    • danab1234

      You cook them first. Mmmm.

      February 25, 2014 at 23:17 | Report abuse |
    • Artemis MA

      danab, I don't always cook the fish. Yum.

      February 26, 2014 at 07:18 | Report abuse |
    • Artemis MA

      JG, for millennia people knew where their food came from. It is only in the last century more or less that people started to think it came from plastic wrap in the market. The squeamishness about food sources is a recent thing based upon that fact. I've heard of inner city children squeamish when they find that carrots are pulled out of the dirt prior to being consumed.

      (Me, I'm squeamish about TVP, which after all didn't exist fifty years ago.)

      February 26, 2014 at 07:28 | Report abuse |
  8. ptmom02

    My Uncle is a Buddhist monk, strict vegan for over 30 years. He's 62, in the last few years he has had two heart attacks and just had stents put in. Obviously eating fruits and veggies is good for us and most don't eat enough but I don't believe eating animal protein and fat is bad for us in moderation. I don't eat pork at all and very little beef for my own philosophical reasons. I do eat chicken, fish, eggs and dairy. My BP is usually around 11/65, cholesterol is 120 and my triglycerides are 60. Two people do not a study make but i think genetics are the biggest factor if you generally eat well.

    February 25, 2014 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ptmom02

      oops, BP is 110/65!

      February 25, 2014 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
    • Vegan Dave

      I find it extremely difficult to believe that a person that has been a strict vegan for over 30 years had a heart attack at age 62 as it simply does not happen. The Framingham Heart Study – which has run for ~40 years – has not yet encountered a cardiovascular disease event in anyone with a cholesterol under ~150.

      April 23, 2014 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
  9. JHanson

    OBUNGABUNGA wants everyone to be vegitarian but the bible says to eat meat. I eat meat for every meal and I can bench 500 lbs thanks to meat can your celery do tHAT???

    February 25, 2014 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • danab1234

      As if you should pay attention to the bible.

      February 25, 2014 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
    • Vegan Dave

      Steroids are known to cause cancer.

      April 23, 2014 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
  10. h

    I have 4 canines in my mouth and I will use them!

    February 25, 2014 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Artemis MA

      (When I first read this, I wondered what breed of canine....)

      February 26, 2014 at 18:35 | Report abuse |
  11. Allie

    "Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass indexes because fruits and vegetables are less energy dense – meaning you can eat more of them for fewer calories."

    Wait, does that mean this study didn't control for BMI? That seems like a pretty significant flaw.

    February 26, 2014 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kitsy

      Hah! The sentence might also be interpreted to say we can eat more "vegetarians" for fewer calories. :-)

      IMO, as long as we eat LOTS of fruits and fresh and steamed veggies every day, we can "get away" with eating a moderate amount of animal protein.

      February 28, 2014 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
  12. Austin

    Vegetarian or not, what matters is moderate intake of food substance, excess of every food is bad. So, which ever one you do, do onto God. Waoooo

    February 26, 2014 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mike J

    Terrible journalism. How about a citation so we can read and make up our own minds as to whether this review of existing work is valid, relevant or suffers from bias.

    I think it's time to stop following CNN on Twitter. Most of the tweets are teasers to drive website traffic. Ironically I usually get real info bracketing CNN's tweet from BBC and AP. Bye, guys.

    February 26, 2014 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Artemis MA

      Thank you!

      February 26, 2014 at 18:37 | Report abuse |
  14. sara@ health_news

    I agree with you.Major thing for blood pressure is over weight.

    March 4, 2014 at 06:33 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.