A US study, carried out by researchers from Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, AbbVie and Brigham and Women's Hospital, has revealed the risks associated with eliminating meat from diet.
The study found a vegetarian diet based on less healthy food options, such as refined grains, could up the risk of heart disease.
According to the researchers behind the latest study, many previous diet and health studies "lumped together" all types of vegetarian diets as plant-based, with no consideration of the content of specific diets – and not all plant-based diets were healthy and nutritious.
The researchers studied data involving 200,000 health workers from the US and tried to analyse any link between diet and coronary heart disease.
They found that a high plant-based diet was not linked with a clear benefit for heart disease risk when compared to a low plant-based/high meat-based diet.
On breaking down the plant-based diets and further analysis, the researchers found interesting differences.
People eating a 'healthy' plant-based diet high in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats were less likely to get heart disease than people eating 'unhealthy' plant-based diets, including foods like potatoes, refined grains and sweets.
While the study did not rule out that other health and lifestyle factors such as stress, job type and education could have influenced the links, the association between unhealthy plant-based diets and heart disease was plausible.
According to the study, the wrong kind of exclusively plant-based diet, one that included a lot of refined grains and sweetened beverages, could actually up the risk of coronary heart disease. On the other hand, cutting one's intake of animal products while increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and continuing to indulge modestly in animal foods, could be as good as a healthy vegan diet-and even better than one that included a lot of French fries and pasta.