A study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that vegetarians may have an advantage over non-vegetarians when it comes to protection from dying of heart disease or getting cancer. This may not come as a surprise, especially to fans of our Real Food Therapy Guide, which has numerous references citing the health benefits and disease prevention qualities of plant power.
Vegetarians Have the Edge?
Research has shown that vegetarians tend to have better health in terms of cholesterol levels and lifestyle habits compared with nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of some diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In this meta-analysis researchers reviewed the data from several studies of vegetarians, which included 124,706 participants, looking for links between a vegetarian diet and risk of death and cancer incidence.
Results showed that vegetarians had a 29% lower rate of death from ischemic heart disease (blockage in the arteries that carry blood to the heart) and 18% lower cancer incidence compared with non-vegetarians. Death from all causes was 9% lower in vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians.
The study authors point out that “High-fat diets are implicated in the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity,” and healthy vegetarian diets tend to be low in saturated fats. But they also caution that more research is needed to understand the full impact of a vegetarian diet on long-term health.
More on Being a Vegetarian
- Vegetarian defined – A healthy vegetarian is a person who eats plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits and veggies and includes other sources of protein and other foods rich in nutrients in their diet, but who also does not eat meat, poultry, or fish.Vegans are people who follow a vegetarian diet, but who also avoid foods and beverages that contain animal products such as milk, eggs, and butter.
- Vegetarian options – This study, along with others, suggests that a vegetarian diet may be especially helpful in preventing chronic disease. But don’t worry—if you can’t part with meat, chicken, or fish, diets such as the Mediterranean-style diet have also been linked to health benefits. The most important diet is a healthy and balanced diet. So whether following a vegetarian, Mediterranean, or another diet, it is important to eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables and to get the balance of nutrients needed to optimize health and prevent disease. It’s also important to avoid junk food, excess fat or sugar, and excess alcohol.
- Consult with a dietitian – If you are a vegetarian, it is wise to talk with a knowledgeable dietitian or nutritionist to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients and protein that you need to stay healthy. This is particularly true for parents who have children on a vegetarian or vegan diet who may need to a multivitamin supplement containing certain nutrients like vitamin B12 to ensure adequate nutrition. Pregnant and lactating women are other groups of people that should also consult with a healthcare professional when considering or following a vegetarian diet.
REFERENCE CITED: (Ann Nutr Metab 2012;60:233–40)