Harvard Heart Letter

Vegetarian diet linked to lower blood pressure

People who follow a vegetarian diet tend to have lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Vegetarians avoid meat and eat mainly plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes (beans and peas). Some include dairy products and eggs (and in this study, fish) in their diets.

The study included 32 observational studies of people who chose their own diets. Compared with meat-eating omnivores, the vegetarians had systolic blood pressure about 7 mm Hg lower, on average, and diastolic blood pressure about 5 mm Hg lower. The researchers also pooled findings from seven clinical trials in which participants were assigned different diets. Those who followed vegetarian diets also had lower blood pressure on average than people who ate different diets.

What's behind this link? Plant-based diets often contain more fiber and less fat and therefore fewer calories, which may explain why vegetarians are generally slimmer than meat-eaters. A healthy weight helps to keep blood pressure in check. Also, fruits and vegetables are low in sodium but rich in potassium, characteristics that help lower blood pressure.

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