CHENNAI: Being a vegetarian may not save an average Indian from risks like diabetes and heart diseases, shows a study by a group of leading international institutes.
Bursting the bubble that being a vegetarian was enough to stay healthy, the study on the effect of vegetarianism on reducing the risk of cardiometabolic diseases shows that there was no significant difference between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in South Asia where the former group ate a lot of fried food and sweets compared to vegetarians in the United States.
The study titled Vegetarianism and cardiometabolic disease risk factors: differences between South Asian and US adults, which analysed cross-sectional data on men and women in urban South Asia, showed that the prevalence of cardiometabolic diseases risk factors like overweight, central obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides, high low density lipoprotein, low high density lipoprotein, and high Framingham Heart Score was not significantly reduced among vegetarians in South Asia.
In comparison, the study showed there was considerable difference among vegetarians and non-vegetarians in the US. “This is because of the greater divergence between vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets in US and South Asia,” said Dr V Mohan, founder of Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF), Chennai, which took part in the study.
Along with Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, Emory Global Diabetes Research Center, Emory University, US; and Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi were part of the study which was published in the recent issue of the international journal, Nutrition.
The researchers considered data from the baseline survey of the Centre for Cardiometabolic Risk Reduction in South-Asia (CARRS), a cohort study of men and women 20 to 69 years in three cities: Chennai and New Delhi in India, and Karachi in Pakistan in 2010-2011. Data for the US were from the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) Survey in 2003 -2004 and 2005 and 2006.
The vegetarians in South Asia more frequently ate fried foods, desserts, milk products, legumes, vegetables and fruits than non-vegetarians.
In comparison, their peers in the US more frequently ate legumes, fruit and whole grains, and less frequently refined cereals, desserts, fried food, fruit juice and soft drinks than non-vegetarians.
As a result, the South Asian vegetarians were less frequently overweight/obese compared with non-vegetarians – a difference of only four percentage points.
In the US, on the other hand, there was considerable difference between overweight/obese vegetarians and non-vegetarians – as much as 20 percentage points. Also, the vegetarians there were less likely to exhibit central obesity than non-vegetarians.
The study also found that the age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among adults in India increased from 6.7 per cent in 2006 to 9.3 per cent in 2014. In the US, the numbers are 7.8 per cent and 10.8 per cent respectively.
Between 1990 and 2020, coronary heart disease is predicted to increase by 120 to 137 per cent in developing countries, compared to the 30 to 60 per cent in developed countries.
In India, between 2000 and 2030, an estimated 35 per cent of all cardiovascular disease deaths will occur among persons 35 to 64 years old, compared with only 12 per cent in the US.
“The study shows that being vegetarian is unhealthy, too, if people do not follow the right diet. Vegetarians in India consume a lot of fried food and also desserts, which are not healthy. People should include a lot of fruits and vegetables in their diet,” Dr Mohan added.