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New Study Questions Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diets

ThinkstockPhotos-57339821-veggie-diet

There are many different things that you can do to try and improve your health. For example, you could exercise more or quit smoking. And, one of the most important changes you can make is to start eating a healthy diet.

Not everyone agrees on what, exactly, a “healthy diet” is. In fact, even health experts can’t say for sure what the “best” diet is for good health – if there is one. Many people follow a vegetarian (meat-free) meal plan, which has been shown in some small studies to be good for your heart. However, the results of a recent study suggest that vegetarians might actually be less healthy than people who eat meat. How true is this claim? Read on to find out.

The research

The study included about 1,300 adults. They were divided into different groups based on what kind of diet they followed:

  • People who ate no meat, but did eat eggs, milk, or fish
  • People who ate meat and lots of fruits and vegetables
  • People who ate a lot of meat
  • People who ate only a small amount of meat

All participants in the study answered questions about themselves, including:

  • Their overall health
  • Any medical problems they had
  • How much alcohol they drank
  • If they smoked
  • How much physical activity they did
  • How often they saw a healthcare provider
  • Their overall quality of life

The researchers wanted to know whether there were differences in health and other lifestyle habits between people who ate no meat, people who ate some meat but also a lot of fruits and vegetables, and people who ate a lot of meat.

The results

The results of the study found that people who ate no meat (vegetarians) were more likely to have a lower BMI, drink less alcohol, smoke less, and get more physical activity than people who do eat meat.

However, vegetarians in the study were more likely to report having some major health problems, like allergies, depression, and cancer. They also were more likely to report having a lower quality of life compared to meat eaters.

What do these results really mean?

That’s a great question! The truth is that they probably don’t mean very much. There were a few problems with this study that make it hard, or even impossible, to know if the results they came up with are true for all or most vegetarians.

One problem with this study is that all of the results are based on what people think about their own life and health. Even if someone thinks they have “poor health,” it’s not necessarily true! And, people who are vegetarians for health reasons are probably more likely to notice problems with their health (and try to fix them) than someone who has not made any conscious lifestyle choices.

Finally, there is no way to know from this study whether avoiding meat caused any of the health problems that the participants reported. It could be that people had a lot of health problems, so they started eating a vegetarian diet to try to get healthier.

But, this does not mean this isn’t a good study. It shows that, contrary to a lot of advice out there, eating a vegetarian diet does not guarantee that you’ll be healthy.

The take home points

  • Making changes to your lifestyle, like smoking less, eating less, and exercising more can help you lose weight and improve your overall health.
  • Eating a vegetarian diet doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be healthy, just like eating meat doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be unhealthy.
  • Most health experts agree that the key to a healthy diet is eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and everything else in moderation, including meats and sweets.

 

Source:

http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0088278&representation=PDF

Robert Ehrman, MD (45 Articles)

Dr. Robert Ehrman, MD is a Board Certified Emergency Physician. He completed his training in Emergency Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT and Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL. He always reminds his patients that the more they take care for their health each day, the less likely they are to visit him again in the ER!

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