Study Finds Vegetarians Live Longer

Fruits-and-VegetablesBy Avery Johnson

Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors tracked 73,308 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for almost six years. The church is known for promoting a vegetarian diet, though not all of its followers adhere to that teaching. Researchers found out what type of diet participants ate, then followed up to find out how many of those participants had died and how.

Vegetarians in the study experienced 12% fewer deaths over the period. Dietary choices appeared to play a big role in protecting the participants from heart disease, from which vegetarians were 19% less likely to die than meat-eaters.

There also appeared to be fewer deaths in the vegetarian group from diabetes and kidney failure.

Caloric intake didn’t seem to matter. The different participant groups generally ate around the same amount of calories daily. Researchers found that the beneficial associations weren’t related to energy intake.

The advantage appeared stronger in men than women, whose diet didn’t seem to make as much of a difference. Eating plant foods didn’t seem to protect participants against cancer, which struck both the vegetarians and non-vegetarians in roughly equal measure.

The paper, written by researchers at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, is larger and includes a more diverse population than previous research, says lead author Michael Orlich, director of the preventive medicine residency program there. “People are confronted with all sorts of nutritional information, but the bottom line is, ‘How will your diet pattern affect your risk of dying?”‘ he says.

Researchers don’t know why a plant-based diet seems to have a protective effect, but one likely reason is the nutrient profile of vegetarian diets, which tend to be higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat. Vegetarians tend to be thinner, another factor known to have an effect on health outcomes, Dr. Orlich says. He adds that the study benefited from examining a group whose rates of alcohol and tobacco use are low.

Of course, just eliminating meat from the plate doesn’t always equal a healthy meal. Vegetarian dishes—for example, a vegetable spring roll—still can be high in fats and calories. And certain meats are healthy.

Loma Linda University is a Seventh-day Adventist institution specializing in health care. The church recommends a diet with “generous use of whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, a liberal use of fresh vegetables and fruits, a moderate use of legumes, nuts and seeds,” according to a statement on its website. The study published Monday was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

When adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, nutritionists recommend watching closely to make sure the intake of key nutrients is sufficient. These include iron and zinc, frequently found in meat, and calcium and vitamin B12. Roughly 5% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, according to a survey published last year by Gallup.

The Loma Linda researchers used a questionnaire to categorize participants into groups based on their diets.

The categories include nonvegetarians and people considered semi-vegetarians, who eat meat more than once a month but less than once a week. In addition to meat, vegans eliminate dairy and eggs from their diets.

Others eat fish, in addition to the cohort that eats no meat but consumes dairy and eggs. For many of the analyses, the researchers lumped all of these subsets of people together as simply “vegetarians.”

The above article originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal.

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5 Responses to Study Finds Vegetarians Live Longer

  1. Not sure about that and Many people seem to suggest the harmful thing is not meat but grains and processed sugar (which seem to be a fad among devotees). In fact, agriculture brought with initially more disease through animal domestication etc. For me the best video for being vegetarian is the discussion between Peter Singer and Dawkins . Otherwise, there are people living the longest in Tibet and Japan eating just fish and rice.

  2. There is ample evidence, collected over the course of decades, linking meat to many more diseases than I can list here, which is why all over the world, people are being told by medical practitioners and nutritionists to consume less of it, alongside more fruits and vegetables. I’m not fully vegetarian myself, and so have no axe to grind, but the dissenters you quote (who, to me anyway, hardly seem to be authorities in the subject) appear to have much in common with the pro-GM lobby and those naysayers who typically deny the ecological ills brought about by industry and big business. Concerning the Japanese diet, it is light years removed from the habit of having the flesh of quadrupeds featuring prominently on one’s plate, and that is the dietary practice health-conscious people have the highest number of issues with. Besides, there is also a large body of data that has been interpreted by professionals in the field/s as linking the comparative longevity of the people of Japan with the traditionally significant intake of green tea and other herbal beverages so prevalent in that country. A simple web search can easily confirm this. At the end of the day, people will believe what they want to believe and follow whom they want to follow, but on balance, the direction in which the bulk of the evidence points is quite clear and unequivocal.

    • There are pros and cons as with everything but fish is good for health (if you go by studies). Some people argue that high calorie content is the cause for the issues, not the meat. I am not one to argue for health benefits of meat over vegetarian diets or vice versa as my reasons for being vegetarian arise from ethics. Eating meat in moderation like wine is know to not cause much damage and this paper from Asia (I was careful not get anything from US and this paper is cited multiple time in non-US countries) compared multiple studies on this subject if you want to look at it. Given these studies, I feel that moderate meat intake maybe alright, but we can live healthily as vegetarians and the ethical considerations help to tilt the scale in its favor. In addition, refined sugar and corn syrup are far worse for health than meat and they are consumed in abundance by vegetarians. I also think humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses needs to be done. Netherlands and other countries in Europe have already moved in that direction by banning halal and kosher meat.

  3. Again, I feel that you have a need to make certain points just for the sake of it, not really because these points are actually worth making. Not once in my comment did I write anything about fish, yet you dedicate your first few lines responding as if I did. There is no doubt whatsoever, though, that there is far more research literature attributing Japanese longevity to green tea than there is citing fish as the key ingredient, in my experience anyway, and I do read a rather huge amount on healthy eating and drinking. For the record, I do eat fish, though I am invariably cautious with tuna and the like, because of the also well-documented risk of mercury poisoning.

    Other than that, the clear correlations between several types of cancer and meat-eating are long-established. The elevated toxic content of most types of meat is common knowledge, and has been aetiologically associated with cancers in numerous countries. High calories are of course the culprit with regard to many illnesses, and it isn’t that those who eschew non-vegetarian foods are necessarily immune to specific types of cancer either. In these times of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the notion that plants are not totally safe represents little more than a truism. Statistically, however, the general trend is known, and the big picture is pretty clear. This is evidenced by the fact that, on an almost daily basis, where I am anyway, I hear doctors and nutritionists advising people to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as to do more exercise.

    I also find it more or less comical that in your first remark, you come up with a resource praising a diet consisting almost entirely of meat (à la Atkins) but subsequent to what I wrote, you then say something along the lines of ‘I feel that moderate meat intake maybe alright.’ To say the least, I find that lacking in consistency. On another note, I’m well aware of the fact that red wine, taken in moderation, benefits the heart, with moderation being the operative word in this particular case. Basically everything written in these comments can readily be verified and confirmed, online and otherwise, which is why I’ve not found it useful to purvey links to any articles and papers, which anyway, would’ve been carefully cherry-picked with a view to supporting the position/s expressed. Anyone genuinely interested can search for themselves and make up their own minds.


    Clinton traces his decision to change back to the morning in February 2010 when he woke up looking pale and feeling tired. His cardiologist quickly brought him into New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to insert a pair of stents. One of his veins had given out, a frequent complication following the quadruple-bypass surgery he had undergone in 2004.

    At a subsequent press conference, Clinton recalls, his doctors tried “to reassure the public that I wasn’t on the verge of death, and so they said, you know, this is actually fairly normal.” Soon after, he received a “blistering” email from Dean Ornish, M.D., the renowned diet and heart disease expert.

    “Yeah, it’s normal,” wrote Ornish, an old friend, “because fools like you don’t eat like you should.”

    Prodded into action, Clinton started by rereading Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, which urges a strict, low-fat, plant-based regimen, along with two books that were, if possible, even more militantly vegan: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D., and The China Study, by Cornell biochemist T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. (When I suffered a heart attack in late November 2010, Clinton sent me all three books.)

    “I just decided that I was the high-risk person, and I didn’t want to fool with this anymore. And I wanted to live to be a grandfather,” says Clinton. “So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.”

    The Clinton article in its entirety makes for an interesting read, but I thought of reproducing the above extract as part of this comment since it lends direct support to the thrust of the JAMA Internal Medicine study.

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