So can becoming a vegetarian save your life?
Researchers at Loma Linda University in California say it can! In a recent large study, the relationship between dietary patterns followed by Seventh Day Adventists and risk of all-cause mortality was examined. The study compared these diets:
- Non-vegetarian – eats meat/animal products more than once per week.
- Vegan diets – eats eggs/dairy, fish, and all other meats less than once per month.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – eats eggs/dairy one time per month or more, but fish and all other meats less than once per month.
- Pesco-vegetarian – eats fish once per month or more, but all other meats less than once per month.
- Semi-vegetarian – eats non-fish meats once per month or more and all meats combined (including fish) once per month or more, but not more than once per week.
The study found all vegetarian diets were associated with lower all-cause mortality, even after adjusting for age, race, smoking, drinking, exercise, education/income, marital status, and region. Results differed between genders. Men fared particularly well:
- Lower risk of all-cause mortality for all vegetarian diets.
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease or ischemic heart disease.
- Lowest overall risk of death from any cause for a vegan diet.
The results for women were not as profound. However, there was a reduction in risk of death from renal and endocrine disease. For female pesco- and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, there was a reduction in all-cause mortality.
What Causes Vegetarians to Be Healthier?
The jury is still out as to the specific reason. But vegetarian and vegan diets have long been associated with a longer, healthier life. These diets have features such as lower saturated fat and higher fiber consumption that are known to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular problems. They also seem to protect against diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome, as demonstrated in previous studies, and replicated in this one. Further analysis will focus on particular foods and nutrients to try to identify any gender-specific mechanisms.
What Does That Mean for Me?
For many years now, we have seen the health benefits of reduced meat consumption. In fact, many doctors now advocate vegetarian diets. Does that mean you should throw all your meat out when you get home tonight? No! Start small. Try making just one meat-free meal a week. Most Americans eat way more protein than they need and far fewer vegetables than they should. Try something new, like black beans, garbanzo beans, or lentils; tofu; bean burgers; or even nuts or nut butters. Amp up their flavor and nutrition by adding lots of fresh herbs and spices, and pair them with a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa. The possibilities are endless!
What vegetarian option will you make for your family this week?
Read my tips on getting your kids to eat their vegetables, here.