Research Reveals - Vegetarians Live Longer, Are Less Prone to Disease

Not so long ago if you told your doctor you were a vegetarian, you might have received a warning about the dire consequences of your diet because you were missing out on vital nutrients.
Today your doctor might advise just the opposite and acknowledge that you are on a good path because recent studies published in nutrition journals have confirmed the efficacy of a low-fat vegetarian diet.
The September 2003 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one of the most prestigious publications in the nutrition field, contains a special supplement devoted to vegetarian diets based on the 4th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition held at Loma Linda University between April 8 and April 11, 2002. Attended by over 40 world renowned nutritionists, epidemiologists, and ecologists, the conference attracted more than 450 participants from round the globe. In the special supplement 25 articles detailed many of the positive aspects of a vegetarian regimen.
The study that would immediately gain your attention is the research report that looked at the relationship between meatless diets and longevity. Four of the six studies analyzed showed that vegetarians lived longer than people who ate meat. One study focused on Seventh Day Adventists who were questioned about their eating habits. Over a 12-year period the vegetarians in the group had a 15% lower chance of dying than those eating flesh just once each week.

Vegetarian Diet Shows Heart Benefits
Benefits to the heart were another positive aspect of the vegetarian lifestyle. Clearly demonstrated was a substantial decrease in blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood lipid (fat) levels. All of these factors point to a lower risk of heart disease. The researchers did issue a warning to vegetarians who might not receive enough omega-3 because fish is the best source for this nutrient. Although flax seeds and walnuts are a source of omega-3, the researchers are not certain vegetarians would receive enough from these foods.
The studies did discuss the positive benefits of a vegetarian diet for diabetics. By eating vegetarian, a diabetic would be consuming more fiber and less cholesterol and would have better control over blood sugar. Focusing on whole grains, legumes, nuts, and soy products, the diabetic would also be able to reduce cholesterol. Consuming more fruits and vegetables would also increase the dietary fiber to help manage blood sugar.
What about your bones if you are a meat eater? Some of the research suggests that animal protein may be detrimental because it increases acidity of the blood. Acidic blood tends to leach calcium from the bones. Vegetarians' blood tends to be less acidic because plant protein tends to make the blood less acidic. Some evidence exists that soy protein may be a factor in preventing bone loss.
"How do you get your protein?" is the question most vegetarians face. The studies revealed that most vegetarians ingested 50 grams of protein daily as part of a 2000-calorie daily diet. In the past vegetarians were often advised to do food combining to obtain all of the necessary amino acids, but now nutritionists say that a diet that includes beans, eggs, nuts, and soy has an abundance of protein. The researchers concluded that most vegetarians eat ample protein.
Even though meat eaters and vegetarians receive the same amount of iron, iron from meat is more easily absorbed by the body than that from plant foods. Vegetarians in the United States have lower amounts of iron stored in their bodies and lower levels of hemoglobin than meat eaters, yet vegetarians don't experience more cases of iron deficiency than their meat-eating counterparts. Some of the studies even suggest that the lower amount of iron in the blood may be beneficial to health.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a concern for vegans but not vegetarians who consume dairy foods and eggs that are good sources. Vegans need to take supplements or eat foods fortified with B12. They need to be aware that many natural food cereals are not fortified with vitamins or minerals.

Dairy Products Associated with Prostate Cancer
Although the Seventh Day Adventists who follow a vegetarian diet experience a healthy lifestyle and have a longer life expectancy, rates of breast and prostate cancer remain high in this group. In his paper, "Lessons from dietary studies in Adventists and questions for the future," Professor Walter Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, discusses the dairy consumption in the lacto-ovo-vegetarian Adventist diet. "In many studies, intake of dairy products has been positively associated with prostate cancer incidence, although prospective studies are relatively few," says Willett. In a 1960 Adventist Health Study, milk consumption (3 or more glasses a day) was positively associated with risk of fatal prostate cancer.
Countries that have a high consumption of dairy products also have a greater incidence of ovarian cancer. Willett reports, "A positive association between milk consumption and risk of ovarian cancer has been seen in some case-control studies but not in others."
Although there is a strong correlation between intake of fat and rates of breast cancer in Western countries, the Adventist Health Study has not found an association between dietary fat intake and the risk of breast cancer.
Professor Joan Sabate, Chairman of the Loma Linda University Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, summed up the change in attitudes concerning the vegetarian diet in his paper, "The contribution of vegetarian diets to health and disease: a paradigm shift."
"Recent scientific advances seem to have resulted in a paradigm shift: diets largely based on plant foods, such as well-balanced vegetarian diets, are viewed more as improving health than in causing disease, in contrast with meat-based diets."
For all vegetarians the Fourth International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition provides a valuable validation for the healthy and humane lifestyle they are currently following. VIP urges all vegetarians to stay the course with more than five servings a day of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds in a well-balanced vegetarian diet. The rest of them will join us eventually.