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A new study looked at how eating a vegan diet may help your health. Claudia Burlotti/Getty Images
  • A new report found that those who ate a healthy vegan diet had better health markers compared to those who ate an omnivorous diet.
  • The researchers recruited 22 pair of twins, who were randomly assigned to eat either an omnivorous or vegan diet for eight weeks.
  • The study looked at LDL cholesterol, fasting insulin, and body weight between the two groups.

A healthy vegan diet is better for your cardiometabolic than a healthy diet that includes meat, a new study conducted in identical twins suggests.

The report, published in JAMA Network Openon Thursday, found that those who ate a healthy vegan diet experienced greater reductions in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, fasting insulin, and body weight compared to the twins who ate an omnivorous diet.

“These effects can potentially provide a cardiovascular benefit, as we know that high LDL cholesterol, poor blood sugar control, and obesity are all risk factors for heart disease,” Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, board certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, told Healthline.

Cutting out meat and animal products isn’t the only way to improve your cardiometabolic health.

Even modest reductions in meat can promote cardiovascular health, past evidence suggests.

“The take-home advice would be for individuals to find the balance that can be maintained long-term; diets that are only followed for short-term provide only short-term benefits,” the study’s senior author, Christopher Gardner, PhD, a professor of medicine at Stanford Medicine and director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, says.

The researchers recruited 22 identical twin pairs (44 people total) who were randomly assigned to eat either an omnivorous or vegan diet for eight weeks (with one twin per diet).

“The study was unique in the recruitment of identical twins as this provided an extra level of scientific ‘matching’ for characteristics other than dietary intake that could have been confounding variables in the study,” Gardner said.

Both diets were designed to be healthy, and all participants were advised to opt for minimally processed foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of added sugars, refined grains, and highly processed foods.

Diet-specific meals were provided to the participants via a meal delivery service for the first four weeks in addition to health educator counseling.

During the final four weeks, the participants were instructed to choose diet-appropriate foods based on counseling they received.

Both groups were instructed to eat vegetables, beans, grains and fruit, however, the vegan group ate more of these foods than the carnivorous group.

“This meant higher fiber, lower saturated fat, and more phytochemicals for the healthy vegan group,” says Gardner.

After eight weeks, those who were assigned to eat a vegan diet experienced several benefits compared to their twins, including lower LDL cholesterol levels, fasting insulin, and body weight.

The vegan group also experienced improvements in fasting high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, vitamin B12, glucose, and TMAO levels, but they were not statistically significant.

“This suggests that, within a short period of time, a plant-based diet can offer benefits to heart health even when compared to a healthy meat-based diet,” says Chen.

Prior studies have found that plant-based diets are associated with greater cardiovascular health and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

For example, research suggests vegan and plant-based diets reduce body weight and improve lipid management, blood pressure, and glucose metabolism.

Vegan diets, which tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts, are higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

The nutrients from healthy plant-based whole foods tend to take longer to digest and absorb than animal-sourced foods, according to Gardner.

“This likely meant a slow release of nutrients like glucose into the bloodstream, which likely led to the benefit observed for lower insulin levels,” he said of the study’s findings.

Growing evidence suggests people don’t need to strictly adhere to plant-based diets to reap the cardiovascular health benefits.

Even swapping out a few animal-sourced meals for plant-based foods weekly can make a difference.

Ideally, people can find a healthy diet plan that works for them.

According to Chen, when eating a vegan diet, it’s important to be aware that, without proper supplementation, it can lead to deficiencies in such essential nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.

In general, he recommends eating healthier foods — like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts — and less unhealthy foods, such as saturated fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.

“Strict diets can sometimes be hard to follow for everyone, so I generally recommend that people use these principles to find a healthy diet that works for them,” Chen said.

A new study found that a healthy vegan diet is better for your overall health than a healthy diet that includes meat and other animal products. The trial, which was conducted in identical twins, found that those who ate a healthy vegan diet experienced greater reductions in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, fasting insulin, and body weight compared to the twins who ate an omnivorous diet.