PESCATARIANS have a lower risk of several adverse heart diseases including stroke than meat eaters, a Scots study found.

Research led by the University of Glasgow involving 420,000 people from across the UK also found that being a vegetarian was associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease.

The study set out to determine whether vegetarians, fish, poultry or meat eaters had a higher risk of developing or dying from heart diseases and used data from the UK Biobank to link diets with health in the British population.

Researchers found that meat-eaters, who comprised 94.7% of the cohort, were more likely to be obese than other diet groups and consumed the least fibre and fruit and vegetables. 

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They were more likely to have more than one multi-morbidity and to be current smokers.

After a median follow-up of 8.5 years, fish eaters, compared with meat-eaters, had lower risks of cardiovascular outcomes such as stroke, heart disease and heart failure. 

Vegetarians had lower risk of developing heart diseases. However, the researchers noted that, as a group, vegetarians consumed more unhealthy foods, such as crisps and pizza than meat-eaters and that therefore vegetarians should not be considered a homogeneous group.

The research concluded that the avoidance of meat does not appear sufficient to reduce health risks if a person’s overall diet is not healthy.

Fish eaters were more likely to drink more sugary drinks and ready meals compared with the other groups, but also reported eating the least amount of takeaways.

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Fish & poultry eaters were more likely to eat home-cooked meals, followed by vegetarians.

In comparison to meat-eaters, vegetarian, fish, and fish & poultry eaters were younger, more likely to be women, south Asian and to have a lower body weight.

The study, which is published today in the European Heart Journal, suggests that a pescatarian diet should be promoted and encouraged as a healthy option.

Professor Jill Pell, senior author on the study,  said: “Our findings showed that people who follow a pescatarian diet are less likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, and heart failure, than people who eat meat.

"Reducing consumption of meat, especially red and processed meat, could improve health as well as being more environmentally sustainble.”

Cardiovascular diseases remains one of the top ten causes of death worldwide and poor diet is said to accounts for around 11 million of these deaths.

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Fanny Petermann-Rocha, lead author, added: “It is likely that fish eaters have a higher intake of cardio-protective nutrients such as polyunsaturated fats and, which could explain the lower risk association between fish eaters and heart diseases in our study.

"In particular, the polyunsaturated fat N-3 has been shown to be cardio-protective, and oily fish is one of its rich sources.”

Of these, 3.8 million deaths have been attributable to a diet low in fruit and vegetables, 1.4 million to a diet low in seafood intake and 150,000 to high red and processed meat intake.

The study, ‘Vegetarians, fish, poultry, and meat-eaters: who has higher risk of CVD incidence and mortality? is published in the European Heart Journal.