We’ve all heard it from doctors, nutritionists and, especially, our mothers: Eat your veggies. For those of us who weren’t scarred by a childhood that felt like a slow torture via forced-vegetable feeding and have since grown to actually like our greens, it would be nice to know that there is a real benefit to eating them, right? Right.
Let’s take vegetarians, for example, who shrug off meats in favor of the leafier stuff. For years, researcher have espoused their better-health status relative to us carnivores. In previous studies, vegetarian diets were found to be associated with a reduced risk of developing certain chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. It’s certainly compelling evidence, but does this actually translate to lower risk of death? According to a new study, the answer may in fact be yes.
Researchers at Loma Linda University in California followed a whole lot of Seventh-day Adventists (73,308 to be exact) for almost six years to determine average death rates and causes of death for the group. Each participant was placed into one of five groups based on their diet practices: nonvegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products). Over the six-year period, there were 2,570 deaths among the cohort. Using this information, researchers found that the vegetarian diet in its many manifestations seems to decrease in a person’s hazard ratio—a fancy term for his or her likelihood of developing a lethal disease—by 12 percent compared with nonvegetarians. If you’re still deciding what one of the many vegetarian varieties to try, pesco-vegetarians had the lowest hazard ratio (by a very, very thin margin). Note, too, that’s it’s not a causal relationship; researchers found an association between vegetarian diets and decreased hazard ratios, not a one-to-one correlation.
So, anyway, we’re talking about a 12 percent reduction. If you’re not falling off your seats over the results, I don’t really blame you. This stat is not particularly impressive (at least in my opinion), especially when you consider the number of confounding variables that may have skewed the results. Think about it: vegetarians, as the whole, tend to be a pretty healthy bunch. They tend to be thinner, drink less alcohol, smoke less and exercise more—all things that typically translate into a better health status. Could these things have also contributed to a decreased hazard ratio in addition to diet practices? That’s for you to decide.
It still may seem tempting (hey, I never said easy) to throw out those steaks and swear off meat forever. There are a number of other studies out there that show a positive correlation between a vegetarian diet and better health outcomes. But as for extending lifespans, I’m still not entirely convinced.