A vegetarian diet can help men prevent certain diseases and prolong life, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. A vegetarian diet protected participants from conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure. The vegetarians in the study were 19% less likely to die than those who ate meat regularly.
For some reason the vegetarian diet benefits and reduced risk of death are much greater for men. Women in the study did not have much of a difference in their longevity due to diet.
Calories were not a factor in health benefits, as the participants in both vegetarian and meat-consuming groups consumed about the same number of calories. Both meat eaters and those who ate only a plant-based diet had the same incidence of cancer.
Researchers followed 73,308 members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church for nearly six years. The researchers learned what kind of diet the participants ate and then found out how many of them had died and their cause of death. The church promotes a vegetarian diet, but not everybody follows that guideline. There are several categories of vegetarians, but the researches did not distinguish among those who ate dairy and eggs, those who ate fish, those who ate meat less than once a week but more than once a month, and those who eliminated all these things. For purposes of the study, all of these categories fell under “vegetarian.”
The National Institutes of Health funded this study. Researchers from Loma Linda University, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution that specializes in health care, wrote the paper. The church promotes a diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and includes legumes, nuts and seeds. It is also noteworthy that the participants had a lower use of tobacco and alcohol than the general population.
Does one need to become a vegetarian to get these benefits? It could be that a diet high in nutrients, high in fiber, and low in saturated fat protects one from heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure. One could argue that many vegetarians have healthier overall dietary habits beyond their choice of protein. If you are going out for a burger, you are probably not eating the fries and soft drink that go with it. The study summarizes that people who are vegetarians tend to be older, more educated, more likely to be married, to drink less alcohol, to smoke less, to exercise more, and to be thinner. All of these healthy lifestyle choices can contribute to preventing disease and prolonging life.
Orlich, Michael J. et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med. 2013. 1-8. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6473