By Robert Preidt
The research included 107 healthy but overweight people, aged 18 to 75, who ate either a low-calorie vegetarian diet that included dairy and eggs, or a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, for three months.
The Mediterranean diet included poultry, fish and some red meat, as well as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. After three months, the participants switched diets. Most participants were able to stay on both diets.
On either diet, participants lost about 3 pounds of body fat and about 4 pounds of weight overall. They also had similar decreases in body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.
There were two notable differences between the diets, though. The vegetarian diet was more effective at reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet led to larger declines in triglycerides, which increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
The study was published Feb. 26 in the journal Circulation.
The "take-home message of our study is that a low-calorie lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet can help patients reduce cardiovascular risk about the same as a low-calorie Mediterranean diet," said study lead author Dr. Francesco Sofi. He's a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy.
"People have more than one choice for a heart-healthy diet," Sofi said in a journal news release.
The two diets are similar in many ways, which may explain why they're equally effective at reducing heart disease risk, Cheryl Anderson wrote in an accompanying commentary. She's an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
Both diets feature "a healthy dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes [beans], whole grains and nuts; focusing on diet variety, nutrient density and appropriate amount of food; and limiting energy intake from saturated fats," Anderson noted.