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Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Sep 1;110(3):722-732. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz153.

A short-term religious "fast" from animal products has a minimal impact on cardiometabolic health biomarkers irrespective of concurrent shifts in distinct plant-based food groups.

Author information

Department of Biobehavioral Health, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA.
Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Division of Public Health Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA.
Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.



Plant-based diets may help improve measures of body fat, blood cholesterol, glucose metabolism, and inflammation. However, limited evidence suggests that the health effects of reducing animal products may depend on the quality of plant-based foods consumed as caloric replacements.


This study examined how temporarily restricting consumption of meat, dairy, and egg (MDE) products for religious purposes influences cardiometabolic health biomarkers and whether any effects of MDE restriction on biomarkers are modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, and distinct plant-based foods.


This study followed a sample of 99 individuals in the United States with varying degrees of adherence to Orthodox Christian (OC) guidance to abstain from MDE products during Lent, the 48-d period prior to Easter. Dietary composition was estimated from FFQs and 7-d food records; measures of body fat, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and inflammation were collected prior to and at the end of Lent.


Each serving decrease in MDE products was associated with an average -3.7% (95% CI: -5.5%, -2.0%; P < 0.0001) and -3.6% (95% CI: -5.8%, -1.3%; P = 0.003) change in fasting total and LDL blood cholesterol, respectively, which were partly explained by minor weight loss. However, the total/HDL cholesterol ratio did not significantly decrease due to an average -3.2% (95% CI: -5.8%, -0.6%; P = 0.02) change in HDL cholesterol. No associations between MDE restrictions and shifts in measures of body fat, glucose, insulin, or C-reactive protein were observed. The data could not provide evidence that changes in cardiometabolic health biomarkers in relation to MDE restriction were modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, or plant-based foods.


Temporary MDE restrictions practiced by this sample of OCs in the United States during Lent had minimal effects on cardiometabolic disease risk factors. Further research among larger samples of OCs is needed to understand how nutritionally distinct and complex combinations of plant-based foods may modify the health effects of religious fasting from MDE products.


Lent; Orthodox Christians; blood cholesterol; cardiovascular health; glucose; insulin; metabolic health; plant-based diets; vegan; vegetarian

[Available on 2020-09-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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