Do you need to become a vegetarian in order to reduce your heart scan score?
No. Plain and simple. We’ve had many non-vegetarians drop their scores.
That said, are there still advantages to following a vegetarian diet, or some variation on the vegetarian theme?
Yes, there are. Let’s put aside the moral or religious arguments in favor of not eating animals—the need to eliminate killing animals for food, elimination of suffering common in modern livestock practices, Kosher considerations, etc. (Not that there aren’t real arguments here. Our focus for this conversation is not, however, the moral dilemma, but the health argument.)
Some of the most unhealthy people I’ve ever met, mostly males, are proud carnivores who boast of their prodigious capacities to eat meat. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tease out the ill-effects of excessive meat eating, since these same men also tend to be substantially overweight, smoke, drink excessively, and fail to get exercise unless their job is physically demanding. You know the type.
What advantages does a vegetarian obtain? A number of studies have suggested that the reduced saturated fat, reduced exposure to parasites, as well as reduced exposure to the antibiotics and hormones now used routinely in livestock-raising practices, do indeed provide benefits to the vegetarian. Thus, vegetarians tend to be substantially thinner, experience less bowel cancer, have less diabetes and heart disease, and live longer.
(If you are interested in reading or seeing more about just how inhumane modern livestock practices are, take a look at the video, "Meet Your Meat" at meat.org. Be sure not to view this after dinner.)
Of course, some of the disadvantages of eating animal products diminish when free-range livestock are eaten, i.e., livestock not raised in the inhumane cramped, filthy conditions of livestock factories, but in the open, grazing or rooting freely. These animals tend to have different fat compositions and taste different.
The advantages of vegetarianism, however, have blurred in recent years, since many so-called vegetarians have failed to maintain the distinction between naturally-occurring foods and processed foods. So, Ritz Crackers, Oreo cookies, whole wheat bread, and Raisin Bran fit into a vegetarian program, but they’re awful for your health. I’ll occasionally meet a self-proclaimed vegetarian who looks every bit as unhealthy as a conventionally eating American, that is, overweight, pre-diabetic person with a developing heart scan score.
So it is not necessary to be vegetarian to reduce your score. You might consider vegetarianism for other reasons, such as moral considerations, or to reduce your risk for cancer. But it is not necessary to drop your heart scan score. A non-processed food diet? Now that's is worth giving serious consideration.