New Study Says Vegetarians Live Longer, But at What Cost?

We thought we'd take a break from writing about fried meats to mention that a new study just came out about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Spoiler: Vegetarian diets are good for you, which is probably not a surprise. What is surprising is that there are numbers to back it up now: over a six-year period with more than 73,000 participants, researchers found that vegetarians were 19 percent less likely to develop heart disease and 12 percent less likely to die, which may also mean that vegetarians are just luckier.

As fans of How to Lie with Statistics, we're usually a little skeptical about studies. This one comes from a Lomo Linda University, a Seventh-day Adventist school. Seventh-day Adventists promote a lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle, meaning a totally fleshless diet. But it's also funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the American Medical Association's internal medicine journal. So we'll give it some consideration.

The church promotes a diet that's heavy on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and moderate use of seeds, nuts, legumes, etc. Which sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet, which has been so popular nutritionists are trying to find variations of it to use in olive oil-deprived regions (the Nordic diet, for example).

But there are a few things to consider here. The researchers lumped together people who rarely ate meat, people who ate fish and vegans. All of these people count as "vegetarian" in the study. Secondly, they found that the diets make almost no difference for women, and the vegetarian eaters didn't show any difference in cancer rates.

And most important, Seventh-day Adventists disapprove of booze and caffeine, claiming "[coffee], tea and alcoholic beverages provide few nutrients and may interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients." While members aren't required to follow all the eating and drinking restrictions, it's reasonable to say that the study participants were already a lot healthier than the average American, and probably live longer lives. But a longer life with no alcohol or coffee. And that's a big distinction.

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Luke Darby
Contact: Luke Darby