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London - Eating a vegetarian diet is likely to keep your blood pressure low – and switching to one could cut your readings, claim researchers.
A study found giving up meat can lead to falls in blood pressure similar to losing three-quarters of a stone in weight.
The diet achieves around half the drop expected from prescription drugs, according to the research from Japan.
Blood pressure is measured by checking two readings – systolic, which is the pressure inside arteries when the heart is forcing blood through them, and diastolic, which is the pressure when the heart relaxes.
Using a reading given in millimetres of mercury – written as mmHg – doctors can determine if it is high or low.
Researchers analysed seven clinical trials and 32 studies from 1900 to 2013. In the clinical trials, participants eating a vegetarian diet had systolic blood pressure almost 5mmHg lower than those eating meat and fish.
The fall was almost 7mmHg among vegetarians in the studies, said the report in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
For diastolic blood pressure, vegetarians saw differences of between 2.2mmHg and almost 5mmHg compared with meat-eaters.
The report, from the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, said this was equivalent to dropping 5kg in weight or pursuing a low-sodium diet, and half the benefit found with modern medication. The main reason for the difference is thought to be the effect of a diet low in fat – partly through avoidance of red meat and also from higher consumption of vegetables.
Eating more fruit and vegetables may also help due to their antioxidant effects.
A British study of 45 000 people last year found vegetarians were one-third less likely to need hospital treatment for heart disease, or die from it.
An estimated three million Britons are vegetarian – about five percent of the population.
Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “A well balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients that we need.
“However, simply removing meat from the diet isn’t a fast track to heart health – many foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will be vegetarian options too.” - Daily Mail