A recent study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria showed that people who follow a vegetarian diet are more physically active, have a lower body mass index (BMI), smoke less, and drink less alcohol compared to people who follow a balanced diet that includes meat.
On the surface, this all sounds like a ringing endorsement for vegetarianism. But when you dig a little deeper into the study results, a different story emerges…
Statistically, vegetarians tend to suffer from subpar overall health, utilize less preventative healthcare, and endure a poorer quality of life. They also experience higher rates of allergies, cancer, and mental illness.
Of course, I’ve been warning you about the nutritional pitfalls of vegetarianism for years. And this study clearly confirms my observations, which turn several politically correct assumptions on their heads.
First of all, the study found that vegetarians weighed less than those who followed a balanced diet. But study after study shows a little extra body weight doesn’t harm health. And, in fact, it may even offer some benefits, as I often report. And the study’s findings — that vegetarians have poorer health, despite weighing less — lends further support to these observations.
Second, vegetarians also appear to exercise more often. But, as I always say, moderation is the key for physical activity. And excessive exercise causes long-term problems for joints, heart, kidneys, and GI tract. (I covered this recently in the February issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures. Refer to my article, “Why breaking this one popular New Year’s resolution is the best thing for your health.” If you’re not already a newsletter subscriber, simply click here to sign up today.)
Third, vegetarians drank less alcohol than meat-eaters. But the science shows abstaining from alcohol does not confer health benefits. On the other hand, moderate consumers of alcohol do get brain and heart benefits. They even live longer!
Fourth, vegetarians visited the doctor less often for preventative check-ups. Perhaps they believe following a vegetarian diet is so healthy, they don’t need preventative check-ups. (But, clearly, they do, as the study shows.) Also, the study found that vegetarians suffer from more physical and mental problems — such as allergies, cancer, anxiety, and depression.
Taking these four findings together, it makes me wonder…do vegetarians simply practice “healthy” behaviors excessively — to the point of becoming counter-productive?
Writing on the wall for decades
I’ve been aware of the shortcomings of the vegetarian diet since I began research at the National Cancer Institute in the 1980s.
Researchers first began studying vegetarians by observing certain organized groups like the 7th Day Adventists in the 1970s and 1980s. These groups tended to have lower rates of cancer and other chronic diseases.
But then, as the popularity of vegetarian diets spread into the general population, researchers began to have a more diverse group of participants to study.
These newer investigations found that vegetarians engaged in other “healthy” behaviors. And these other behaviors wholly accounted for their better health. The restricted diet itself did not confer the health benefits.
Furthermore, today we know that vegetarians in modern society generally have a higher socioeconomic status. They can afford to pay three times more for healthy, organic foods at places like Whole Foods. (In fact, I call this factor the “Whole Foods Effect.” Though after the recent takeover, I suppose I should now call it the “Amazon Effect.”)
And every study associates higher socioeconomic status with all kinds of health benefits. In the end, following a vegan or vegetarian diet may correlate more to affording the indulgence of being trendy or politically correct.
The fact is, people generally have a hard enough time getting key nutrients from their modern diets. This is due to a number of factors that include: the declining nutrient content in staple foods, the government’s decades-old poor advice to avoid dietary cholesterol and saturated fats, and the complete uselessness of popular “one-a-day” multivitamin supplements.
We have widespread epidemics of nutritional deficiencies. Especially in B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals. (I’ll report more on this rampant problem on Friday.)
And vegetarians have a particularly tough time getting these same nutrients into their diet. In fact, studies show vegetarians have high rates of deficiencies of these vitamins, which increases disease risk.
And the risk is even worse for children…
In 2009, the CDC reported that about 1 in 200 U.S. children follow a vegetarian diet. These children are essentially malnourished. And if you think just giving them a gummy vitamin every day will cover the missing nutrients, think again.
In my view, there are three main reasons to keep meat and fish on the table:
1. Eating unprocessed, natural meat gives you healthy proteins, essential fats, vitamins, and bioavailable minerals, which you can’t get from other sources.
2. Many older Americans don’t get enough protein to maintain muscle mass. And meat is the best source of complete proteins.
3. Most Americans are deficient in calcium (which should come from your diet, not from supplements), magnesium, selenium, and other minerals that come from meat.
Of course, if you avoid eating meat for ethical reasons, I certainly respect your decision. But like so many people today, you shouldn’t think you are doing yourself a favor when it comes to your health. In fact, you face a far greater challenge for achieving optimal nutrition if you don’t eat meat.
In the end, my dietary advice is applicable to all dietary preferences:
• Eat a balanced diet with at least five portions of fruits and vegetables every day.
• Avoid sugar and refined grains.
• If you must eat grains, choose whole grains.
• Supplement with 10,000 IU daily of vitamin D — a critical fat-soluble nutrient. You can now find it in convenient, liquid form together with the potent marine carotenoid astaxanthin.
• You should also incorporate healthy fats into your diet such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and avocados.
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, you can find more nutrition tips in the May 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“REVEALED! The biggest health scam in the history of nutritional science.”) Not yet a subscriber? You’re just one click away from the vital knowledge and insights the government, mainstream health, Big Food, and Big Pharma don’t want you to uncover.
“Nutrition and Health – The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters: A Matched Sample Study,” Plos One (www.journals.plos.org) 2/7/14