Health foodies and vegetarians have endured decades-if not centuries-of scornful glares and hurtful comments from meat-eaters, but new research shows that a meatless diet can not only improve your health, but it may actually help you live longer.
The study, conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University, was published in the recent issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Between 2002 and 2007, the death rates of more than 73,000 people were studied, broken up into five groups: vegan, vegetarian (includes eggs and dairy), pesco-vegetarian (includes fish), semi-vegetarian, and non-vegetarian.
During the study length, more than 2,500 deaths occurred, and the vegan, vegetarian and pesco-vegetarian groups showed significantly lower mortality rates than the non-vegetarian and semi-vegetarian groups. The vegetarians had a 12 percent lower hazard ratio for all-cause mortality, and vegans were 28 percent lower than non-vegetarians.
The data also showed a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease among the vegetarian groups, as well as lower blood pressure levels, lower cholesterol levels, and lower body mass index.
Despite the findings, the exact cause of the better health among the vegetarian groups is not entirely clear. Study author Gary Fraser, PhD said, "The challenge when trying to describe vegetarianism as a dietary pattern is that there are so many different variations on the vegetarian diet," Food Navigator reported.
Still, on average, vegetarians are more likely to be eating diets that are higher in fiber, with less saturated fats and fewer calories overall than meat eaters, said Fraser. And that may be boosting their health and longevity.
More than avoiding meat, the benefits seem to be in consuming more plants, which are loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants that have been shown to boost health, immune function and reduce the risk of developing certain chronic illnesses.