Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet provides a wide range of health benefits. Research shows that vegetarians suffer less from many of the dieases associated with the typical Western diet, including obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, diet-related cancers, diverticular disease, constipation and gall stones.

Vegetarian Diets Follow Dietary Guidelines

A typical vegetarian diet reflects most of the dietary recommendations for healthy eating, being low in saturated fat and high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Vegetarian diets Lower in Fat/Lipids

Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in total fat. Taber & Cook (1980) found lacto-ovo vegetarians to consume an average of 35% of energy as fat, compared to omnivores consuming over 40% of energy as fat. A study of the diets of a group of French vegetarians found they had a daily intake of 25% less fat than non-vegetarians (Millet, 1989). Vegetarians also tend to eat proportionally more polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat compared with non-vegetarians. Animal products are the major sources of dietary saturated fat.

U.S. Vegetarian Health: Data from the Adventist Health Study

This is the only major, ongoing study on the general health and mortality of vegetarians in the U.S. Data was collected from 1976-1988.

Of the 34,192 participants, all members of the Seventh-day Adventist church:

  • 29% were vegetarian.
  • 7-10% of the vegetarians were vegan.

Compared to the non-vegetarians the above vegetarians had about:

  1. 1/2 the high blood pressure and diabetes
  2. 1/2 the colon cancer
  3. 2/3 the rheumatoid arthritis and prostate cancer
  4. Breast, lung, & uterine cancers tended to be lower in vegetarians but could have been due to random chance.

Vegetarian Life Expectancies

Life expectancies in the Adventist Health Study have recently been published. They show that this group of Seventh-day Adventists appears to be the longest-lived, formally studied population in the world (with an average life span of 78.5 years for men, 82.3 for women).

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet - Summary

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet, a 1999 paper co-authored by two experts on the mortality rates of vegetarians, concludes:

Compared with non-vegetarians, Western vegetarians have a lower mean BMI (by about 1 kg/m(2)), a lower mean plasma total cholesterol concentration (by about 0.5 mmol/l [19 mg/dl]), and a lower mortality from IHD [ischemic heart disease] (by about 25%). They may also have a lower risk for some other diseases such as diverticular disease, gallstones and appendicitis. No differences in mortality from common cancers have been established. There is no evidence of adverse effects on mortality.

Sources include:

  1. Armstrong, B. (1977) Blood pressure in Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians. Am Jnl Epidemiology v.105 p.444-9
  2. British Medical Association (1986). Diet, nutrition and health. BMA, London.
  3. Fraser, G et al (1991) Diet and lung cancer in Seventh Day Adventists. Am Jnl Epidemiology v.133 p.683-93.
  4. Key, T J et al. (1998) Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a collaborative analysis of 8,300 deaths among 76,000 men and women in five prospective studies. Public Health Nutrition.
  5. Key, T J. et al. (1999) Health Benefits of a vegetarian diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society v.58 p.271-5.

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