More and more people today are experimenting or at least thinking about adopting a more vegetarian diet, and today let’s look at the results of a large research study on over 73,000 men and women on the effects of a vegetarian diet.
The researchers in this study, published June 3 in the JAMA Internal Medicine, recognized that there are various types of vegetarian diet, from the most strict to more liberal. Here are the four types of vegetarian diets they describe:
Vegan—the most strict, excludes all animal products (meaning no fish, dairy, or eggs)
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian— allows dairy and eggs
Pesco-vegetarian— allows also fish
Semi-vegetarian— eat fish or meat no more than once per week
The researchers from Loma Linda University (California) studied the health and diets of these individuals over nearly six years, and correlated diet type with the risk of heart disease, cancer, kidney or endocrine disease, and the death rate.
Note that the men and women in this study, with a average age of 58 years, were members of the Seventh-day Adventist church, so there was a higher than average rate of vegetarianism, and a low rate of alcohol and tobacco use. Of the group of 73 thousand, 52% were one of the four vegetarian types, and 48% were non-vegetarians.
1) Vegetarians had a 12% lower risk of dying during the six-year study than non-vegetarians.
2) All the vegetarians groups enjoyed this benefit of lower death risk, but the ones who did the best were the pesco-vegetarians, with a 19% decreased risk (the semi-vegetarians had a 9% decreased risk).
3) For specific diseases, vegetarians had a 52% lower risk of dying from kidney failure, and a 39% lower risk of dying from endocrine or diabetic disorders. There was no difference in the cancer rate.
4) Men had a 42% lower risk of death from heart disease during the six years. Women did not show this benefit however.
The researchers are not sure why men seemed to benefit more than women from a vegetarian diet, and they concluded that further studies need to be done. They also noted a previous study of British vegetarians showed no decrease in the mortality rate, and that even amongst vegetarians, diets can vary widely between individuals and between countries.
Dr. Robert Baron, of the University of California San Francisco, commented on the study and said that nutritionists are still not in agreement about the amount of meat that should be ingested but “virtually all agree that diets should limit added sugars and sugary drinks, refined grains, and large amounts of saturated and trans fats”.
But you might consider the idea of a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet for your health and for weight control. One of the most renowned nutritional experts in the United States, Michael Pollen, is most famous for this succinct quote on how to eat wisely:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
And when he says “Eat food” he means real food, not food that is processed, or made in a factory. Food you actually make at home.
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