Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Cardiometabolic Risk in People With or at High Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Jul 3;6(7):e2325658. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.25658.


Importance: Plant-based diets are known to improve cardiometabolic risk in the general population, but their effects on people at high risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain inconclusive.

Objective: To assess the association of vegetarian diets with major cardiometabolic risk factors, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), systolic blood pressure (SBP), and body weight in people with or at high risk of CVDs.

Data sources: This meta-analysis was registered before the study was conducted. Systematic searches performed included Embase, MEDLINE, CINAHL, and CENTRAL from inception until July 31, 2021.

Study selection: Eligible randomized clinical trials (RCTs) that delivered vegetarian diets in adults with or at high risk of CVDs and measured LDL-C, HbA1c or SBP were included. Of the 7871 records screened, 29 (0.4%; 20 studies) met inclusion criteria.

Data extraction and synthesis: Two reviewers independently extracted data including demographics, study design, sample size, and diet description, and performed risk of bias assessment. A random-effects model was used to assess mean changes in LDL-C, HbA1c, SBP, and body weight. The overall certainty of evidence was evaluated using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) tool.

Main outcomes and measures: Mean differences between groups in changes (preintervention vs postintervention) of LDL-C, HbA1c, and SBP; secondary outcomes were changes in body weight and energy intake.

Results: Twenty RCTs involving 1878 participants (range of mean age, 28-64 years) were included, and mean duration of intervention was 25.4 weeks (range, 2 to 24 months). Four studies targeted people with CVDs, 7 focused on diabetes, and 9 included people with at least 2 CVD risk factors. Overall, relative to all comparison diets, meta-analyses showed that consuming vegetarian diets for an average of 6 months was associated with decreased LDL-C, HbA1c, and body weight by 6.6 mg/dL (95% CI, -10.1 to -3.1), 0.24% (95% CI, -0.40 to -0.07), and 3.4 kg (95% CI, -4.9 to -2.0), respectively, but the association with SBP was not significant (-0.1 mm Hg; 95% CI, -2.8 to 2.6). The GRADE assessment showed a moderate level of evidence for LDL-C and HbA1c reduction.

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, consuming a vegetarian diet was associated with significant improvements in LDL-C, HbA1c and body weight beyond standard therapy in individuals at high risk of CVDs. Additional high-quality trials are warranted to further elucidate the effects of healthy plant-based diets in people with CVDs.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Weight
  • Cardiovascular Diseases*
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Glycated Hemoglobin
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Research Design
  • Vegetarians


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Glycated Hemoglobin