Whatever your reason may be for turning vegetarian, whether it be environmental, ethical or personal reasons, the question still exists: Are vegetarians really healthier than meat-eaters?
A recent study of over 70,000 Seventh Day Adventists published in JAMA Internal Medicine has shown that male vegetarians in the group had a 12% lower risk of death from any cause than the meat eaters. Interestingly, the study found that a vegetarian diet did not seem to benefit women any more than a meat-based one, and there was no greater protection against cancer in either group. Although, the researchers also noted that vegetarians usually exercise more than meat-eaters and a lot less vegetarians smoke. Vegetarians also tend to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables than meat-eaters and this contributes to an overall healthier lifestyle.
You Must Ensure That You Receive Sufficient Vitamins and Minerals
Although eating less meat is a good idea for just about everyone, when you remove all meat from your diet it does not guarantee good health. Vegetarians must ensure that they are receiving sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals that are difficult to find in a non-meat diet, such as vitamin B12 and iron. Although iron can be found in vegetables as well, it is non-heme iron, a form that is not as easily absorbed as the heme iron in meat.
In general, the meat itself is not the only issue when it comes to the health of meat-eaters. It is also the items that accompany it that tend to contribute to nutritional problems. Take, for instance, a hamburger. Most red meat comes from animals that have been raised on large factory farms where they are given hormones and antibiotics. Grass-fed, organic meat does not have this unhealthy element and is much more beneficial for the human body.
Refined Carbohydrates Cause the Most Chronic Disease
More current studies are finding that refined carbohydrates are causing the most chronic disease in our culture. Many processed foods include a high saturation of these refined carbohydrates and as a society we consume too many of these carbs. Native cultures that have a high intake of fat and/or meat actually have lower rates of heart disease and diabetes than our culture, which eats less meat and saturated fat, but far more carbohydrates.
All in all, becoming a vegetarian is not necessarily healthier. If you eat a balanced diet with all of the necessary vitamins and minerals, exercise regularly and eliminate many of the refined carbohydrates that are included in processed foods, then you will overall lead a healthier and more enjoyable life.
For Your Health,
Dr. Joseph Gambardella, Dr. Todd Brown and Dr. Benjamin Erb