Friday, April 8, 2011

Eating Like a Herbivore May Prolong Life

The way we have been producing and consuming food in the past 50 years is virtually unrecognizable compared to the way humans have been eating for thousands of years (Thanks 'Food Inc.'!). So, even though our ancient ancestors were indeed meat eaters, consuming whatever they could find off the land, and our not so ancient ancestors had agriculture and farms as assets, today's food is a far cry from what it used to be. As a result, the foods that we eat today have a different effect on our health compared to what they once did (or even 50 years ago) and researchers are suggesting that avoiding meat can help prevent disease and prolong life.

According to a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care (which you can check out here), following a vegetarian diet can cut one's risk of metabolic syndrome, also known as "diabesity" because it includes factors such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Of the 773 participants in the 'Adventist Health Study 2', it was found that vegetarians had lower levels of triglycerides, glucose, blood pressure and waist circumference than non-vegetarians. The only exception was that there was no difference in their cholesterol levels.

It was found that only 23% of vegetarians (eating any kind of meat less than once a month) had at least three factors of metabolic syndrome compared to 39% of non-vegetarians and 37% of semi-vegetarians (eating meat or poultry less than once a week). Vegetarians also had lower BMIs on average.

It is interesting that even those classified as vegetarians were, by definition, allowed to have some meat once in a while. This means that in the study, some people probably had none at all while others dabbled here and there, yet the results on the whole were far more favourable than those who had it more frequently, even twice a month. It kind of seems unfair though, when you consider that the risk of developing at least 3 symptoms of metabolic syndrome barely differed between those who had meat a couple of times a month (37%) and those who had it in unrestricted amounts (39%).

What this suggests is that if you want to reap the benefits of vegetarianism outlined here (i.e. slashing multiple risk factors), it's not a short-term sort of deal; you've got to be committed. Other studies, however, have found that giving up meat even once a week has marked health and environmental benefits, so don't be totally discouraged if you're not ready to ditch that steak just yet!