Are vegetarian diets secret to long life? People who avoid meat have better health due to lower blood pressure
Vegetarians live longer because of their diet – with men reaping the most benefits, claim researchers.
They found a cut in death rates for people eating vegetarian diets compared with non-vegetarians in a study of more than 70,000 people.
Over a six-year period, vegetarians were 12 per cent less likely to die from any cause, says a report published Online First by JAMA Internal Medicine.
It is thought the benefits come from lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels in people eating low-fat diets based on vegetables, whole grains and fruit.
The health benefits of eating low-fat diets based on vegetables, whole grains and fruit include lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels
The research shows vegetarians are less likely to die because of their dietary choices
Vegetarian diets have been linked to lower risk for several chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.
An estimated three million Britons, around five per cent, are vegetarian and never eat meat or fish, including superstar musician Paul McCartney and his fashion designer daughter Stella McCartney.
Dr Michael Orlich, of Loma Linda University in California, and colleagues examined all-cause and cause-specific death rates in a group of 73,308 men and women Seventh-day Adventists.
Researchers assessed dietary patients using a questionnaire that classified them into five groups: nonvegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products).
The study said vegetarian groups tended to be older, more highly educated and more likely to be married, to drink less alcohol, to smoke less, to exercise more and to be thinner.
Previous research has suggested vegetarian diets may extend life expectancy compared with meat-eating, but many of the studies have been small.
In the latest study there were 2,570 deaths among the study participants during an average follow-up time of almost six years.
There was a 12 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause for vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians.
Men fared better, as they benefited from a significant reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease and ischaemic heart disease.
In women, there were no significant cuts in these categories of deaths.
The report said ‘These results demonstrate an overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the non-vegetarian dietary pattern.
‘They also demonstrate some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the non-vegetarian diet.’
The main reason for the difference is thought to be the effect of a low-fat vegetarian diet on cholesterol and blood pressure, partly through avoidance of red meat and also from higher consumption of vegetables.
Red meat contains ingredients that have been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer
Red meat, especially processed meat, contains ingredients that have been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
These include heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites, and certain carcinogens that are formed during cooking.
Eating more vegetables and fruit may also help through their antioxidant effects, combating harmful naturally occurring chemicals in the body.
Official advice from the Department of Health in 2010 said cutting down on red meat could reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
Liz O’Neill, head of communications at the Vegetarian Society said ‘With higher intakes of fresh vegetables, pulses and other plant-foods, it seems obvious to many that balanced vegetarian diets are healthier than those reliant on meat, but we do not need to rely on gut instinct with so much hard evidence of that health advantage, both in the UK and abroad.
Research showed the lifestyle choices of vegetarians help improve life expectancy. People who don’t eat meat proved to be less-likely to smoke and drink alcohol
‘This new American study is significant because the nature of the community studied (Seventh Day Adventists) means that even the meat eaters included were leading a relatively health-conscious lifestyle.
‘The reported 12 per cent reduction in mortality was directly associated with being vegetarian, rather than having a healthy balanced diet.
‘Similarly UK studies indicate that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer and significantly lower (32 per cent less) rates of heart disease which are major causes of death in Britain.’
Findings from the largest British study of 45,000 Britons earlier this year found vegetarians have healthier hearts than people who eat meat or fish.
They were one-third less likely to need hospital treatment for heart disease or die from it.