Eating a vegetarian diet may help you live longer. That’s the message of a new study published online by JAMA, Internal Medicine.
Researchers analysed the mortality rate over a six-year period of more than 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists with varying dietary habits, and found that the those who were vegetarians had a 12 per cent lower death rate during that time than non-vegetarians.
The connection between a plant-based diet and longer life was greater for men than women in the study. Vegetarian men were also less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease (a common form of heart disease in which the blood supply to the heart is reduced) than women.
The study used a broad definition of “vegetarian,” including vegan (excludes all animal products), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products), and semi-vegetarian (includes meat more than once a month but less than once per week).
The results are the latest findings from the ongoing Adventist Health Study-2, a large, long-term study of 96,000 Seventh-Day Adventists in the United States and Canada conducted by Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California.
Due in part to their dietary habits, Adventists are of interest to researchers because they have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes than other people.
According to Michael Orlich, M.D, the study’s lead author, the research did not look directly at why vegetarians live longer, but he says diets low in animal products appear to reduce the risk of deaths related to heart and circulatory diseases. Previous research suggests that vegetarians eat less saturated fat and more fiber, both of which contribute to improved health.
Whether a vegetarian diet is right for endurance athletes is a matter of debate. But the study suggests that you do not need to be a full vegetarian to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.
“Based on the existing evidence, I would encourage people to reduce their meat consumption, particularly red meat and processed meats, eat less refined foods and added sugars and fats, and eat a wide variety of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains,” says Orlich.