It seems our parents were right when they told us to eat our vegetables. New research published today in JAMA Internal Medicine provides evidence that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters and succumb to fewer chronic diseases.
Michael J. Orlich, M.D., an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University in California, and his colleagues examined data on a group of 73,308 Seventh Day Adventists in the Adventist Health Study 2 cohort of nearly 100,000 people.
Over a period of six years, 2,579 deaths occurred. The nearly 38,000 vegetarians in the study had a 12 percent lower risk of death from all causes. Vegetarian men fared even better, with a significantly lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease compared to non-vegetarians.
“In the medical community, there is an increasing attention to diet in disease prevention, and a growing appreciation for the role of dietary patterns in managing disease,” Orlich said in an interview with Healthline. According to his study, vegetarians are less likely to suffer from hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease, conditions currently linked to unhealthy dietary habits.
Study participants were divided into five groups: non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products), and vegan (excludes all animal products).
Pesco-vegetarians had an even lower risk of death—19 percent for all causes—as well as a 35 percent lower risk of death from heart disease.
Orlich said he found that the benefits of vegetarianism were more pronounced when he looked at specific diseases. “We found a striking association with renal failure and endocrine disorders,” he said. Vegetarians were 52 percent less likely to die from kidney failure and 39 percent less likely to die from endocrine and diabetes-related disorders.
Orlich plans to pursue further studies with this same cohort in a few years.
Overall, vegetarians in this “clean living,” religious study group tended to be older, more highly educated and more likely to be married, to drink less alcohol, to smoke less, to exercise more, and to be thinner than non-vegetarians.
The Biggest Dietary Offenders
Summer barbecue season is here, but keep in mind that red meat and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Higher mortality has also been linked to diets containing foods with high glycemic loads.
Glycemic load is how much a given food raises your blood sugar and insulin levels. For example, a serving of watermelon is high in natural sugar but has a low glycemic load. Grains can be low in sugar but have an extremely high glycemic load.
“Everybody should be informed about the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet and make choices that are right for them,” Orlich said.
If you are considering switching to a healthier diet, the Harvard Medical School’s preventive healthcare site offers comprehensive nutritional planning resources.