Does following a vegetarian diet really help you live longer? Or, as the comedians might say, does it just feel longer?
Seriously, a large, new study found that avoiding beef, pork and chicken may give you a slight edge: vegetarians had 12 percent fewer deaths overall than nonvegetarians, and 19 percent fewer deaths from heart disease, during a nearly six-year period.
Adding fish and seafood to a vegetarian diet helped even more. Those who were pesco-vegetarians had 19 percent fewer deaths, a finding in line with other research supporting the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet heavy on grains, veggies and fish.
Men, in particular, were protected by a plant-heavy diet, the researchers found, with vegetarian men less likely to die from heart disease than meat-eating men are.
Avoiding meat, however, didn't seem to protect participants against cancer, which struck both vegetarians and nonvegetarians about equally, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involved 73,308 Seventh-Day Adventists - a religious group known for advocating a vegetarian diet and other healthy practices. The study's researchers were with Loma Linda University in California, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution that has long studied the connection between vegetarianism and health.
In this study, subjects were divided into five groups, based on questionnaires about their eating habits: nonvegetarian (meat eaters), semi-vegetarian (ate meat or fish no more than once a week), pesco-vegetarian (ate fish and seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (ate both dairy products and eggs) and vegan (avoided all animal products).
While pesco-vegetarians had a 19 percent lower risk of death compared with nonvegetarians, vegans had a 15 percent lower risk and lacto-ovo-vegetarians had a 9 percent lower risk. Semi-vegetarians, who ate meat occasionally, had an 8 percent lower risk of death.
Keep in mind that the researchers can't say for sure that avoiding red and processed meats will help people live longer. Other factors - the high amount of fiber in a vegetarian diet, the fact that vegetarians are thinner and less likely to smoke - could also have affected the outcome of the study.
Even so, "various types of vegetarian diets may be beneficial in reducing the risk of death compared to nonvegetarian diets," lead author Michael Orlich, M.D., assistant professor of preventive medicine, told Bloomberg News. "People should take these kinds of results into account as they're considering dietary choices."
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