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What about the relationship between vegetarian diets and health--is there any evidence for better (or worse) health outcomes compared to omnivorous diets?
Posted by Jayson Hunter on 22 April 2011 11:18 AM
There is a substantial body of evidence supporting the belief that vegetarians in Western countries experience significantly less cancer, less heart disease, fewer strokes, and generally live longer than omnivores. However, it is also true that people who choose a particular diet for health reasons will probably also look after their health in other ways. For example, they are less likely to smoke, to abuse alcohol and other drugs, and are more likely to exercise for health and general fitness. It may be that these behaviors explain some of the health benefits associated with being vegetarian. However, this argument does not explain the entire health benefit. It seems increasingly likely that higher intake of beneficial dietary factors--available only in foods of plant origin--also plays an important part in explaining the better overall health of vegetarians. Much research is still needed to determine the optimal diet for health and longevity (living to a 'ripe old age'). Some nutritionists believe that a predominantly vegetarian diet, with low-moderate quantities of lean meat and moderate quantities of low- or reduced-fat dairy products will produce the best long-term health outcome. However, it is still true that strict vegetarianism (particularly the lacto and lacto-ovo varieties) is associated with better health outcome than an omnivorous diet. Although the optimal dietary strategy for health and longevity has still not been determined, the emphasis today is on increasing intake of foods of plant origin--breads and cereals (preferably whole grain), vegetables (including legumes) and fruits. If omnivores make this change at the expense of fatty meats, while continuing to eat moderate quantities of lean meat (including red meat) and fish, an overall increase in health will almost certainly result.
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