Nutrition hotline: this issue's Nutrition Hotline reviews scientific studies that put into perspective the media-hyped reports that suggest that a vegetarian lifestyle is unhealthy.
QUESTION: "Every year, experts seem to arise out of nowhere to suggest that vegetarianism vegetarianism, theory and practice of eating only fruits and vegetables, thus excluding animal flesh, fish, or fowl and often butter, eggs, and milk. In a strict vegetarian, or vegan, diet (i.e. is not a viable dietary choice. I remember hearing that vegetarians have increased riskier cancer, and that vegetarians risk not getting enough protein, and each time, a follow-up study allayed my fears. Can you provide an analysis that lays these and future criticisms to rest?" EB, MD
ANSWER: Several large studies of vegetarians can give us the information we need to address this question. Many of these have followed a group of vegetarians for a long time, long enough to see if health problems would be more likely to develop in vegetarians. The value of looking at a large group of vegetarians, rather than a few people, is that it gives us a better perspective on which conditions are and are not related to the vegetarian diet. For example, suppose you were to look at a group of ten vegetarians who were in a support group because they were attempting to make lifestyle changes (including a change to a vegetarian diet) after having a heart attack. You might find that this group was overweight, had high cholesterol Cholesterol, High Definition
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in animal tissue and is an important component to the human body. It is manufactured in the liver and carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. , and high blood pressure. You may come to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet caused all these problems if you looked only at this small group. If, on the other hand, you looked at a group of 1,000 vegetarians, it is more likely that they would be a varied group and more representative of vegetarians as a whole. Some might have had heart attacks, some would have high blood pressure, and some would be very healthy.
The largest study conducted on vegetarians combined data from four different countries to compare a total of 27,808 vegetarians to approximately 48,000 non-vegetarians. This study found that vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality from heart disease than did non-vegetarians. While there was no significant difference in mortality from cerebrovascular disease cerebrovascular disease Neurology Any vascular disease affecting cerebral arteries–eg ASHD, diabetic vasculopathy, HTN, which may cause a CVA or TIA with neurologic sequelae–speech, vision, movement of variable duration. or cancer of the stomach, colon, lung, breast, or prostate in vegetarians when compared to non-vegetarians, this study certainly suggests that vegetarianism is a viable dietary choice, offering health benefits.
A study of 30,000 California Seventh-day Adventists, 30% of whom are vegetarian, followed subjects for 25 years to assess their health status. Vegetarians were found to have much lower risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, colon and prostate cancer prostate cancer, cancer originating in the prostate gland. Prostate cancer is the leading malignancy in men in the United States and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in men. , and arthritis. Vegetarian men were less likely to develop fatal heart disease. Other large studies have found that vegans and vegetarians have lower blood cholesterol levels and LDL-cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians.
Vegetarians have been shown to have longer life-expectancies (see pages 24-25), use fewer medications and health services health services Managed care The benefits covered under a health contract , and have fewer surgeries than do non-vegetarians.
"But what about protein, or molybdenum molybdenum (məlĭb`dənəm) [Gr.,=leadlike], metallic chemical element; symbol Mo; at. no. 42; at. wt. 95.94; m.p. about 2,617°C;; b.p. about 4,612°C;; sp. gr. 10.22 at 20°C;; valence +2, +3, +4, +5, or +6. , or pantothenic acid pantothenic acid (păn`təthĕn`ĭk): see coenzyme; vitamin.
Organic compound, essential in animal metabolism. , or biotin biotin: see vitamin; coenzyme.
Organic compound, part of the vitamin B complex, essential for growth and well-being in animals and some microorganisms. ?" you may be saying. "Didn't I hear somewhere that vegetarian diets are deficient in some nutrient?" A vegetarian diet can certainly be deficient in one or more nutrients, especially if it is a very limited diet that has little variety in foods, does not contain enough calories, or relies heavily on "junk foods" (like snack chips, sodas, sweets, alcoholic beverages). On the other hand, a vegetarian diet featuring a variety of foods (including whole grains, dried beans, fruits, vegetables, and reliable sources of vitamin [B.sub.12] and vitamin D vitamin D
Any of a group of fat-soluble alcohols important in calcium metabolism in animals to form strong bones and teeth and prevent rickets and osteoporosis. It is formed by ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) of sterols (see steroid) present in the skin. ), containing enough calories, and with few junk foods, will generally provide the nutrients you need.
When you hear of a study purporting to show that vegetarian diets are deficient in one or more essential nutrients, it is important to ask some questions.
* Was the study of just one vegetarian or of a small group of vegetarians who might have been eating a very limited diet?
* Was the study of vegetarians in a country where food safety or adequacy is a major issue? If so, the results may not apply to vegetarians living in countries with easy access to a varied, hygienic hy·gien·ic
1. Of or relating to hygiene.
2. Tending to promote or preserve health.
3. Sanitary. diet.
* Was the study done recently? Some studies from the 1960s and 1970s are still being cited as evidence for concerns about vegetarian diets. Today's vegetarian diets typically feature larger variety and more fortified fortified (fôrt´fīd),
adj containing additives more potent than the principal ingredient. foods than did vegetarian diets 30 or 40 years ago.
* Could factors other than diet have affected the results?
* Who paid for the study? Might that affect the findings?
* Was this a preliminary study? Have other studies reached the same conclusions?
The bulk of the evidence is that vegetarians live long and healthy lives If you hear of an isolated study showing that a small number of vegetarians develop one problem or another (perhaps unrelated to their diet), try not to be alarmed. Evidence strongly supports the healthfulness health·ful
1. Conducive to good health; salutary.
2. Healthy. See Usage Note at healthy.
health of a vegetarian diet.