It's Not Easy Eating Green- Part 1


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Vegetarians are strange people. Alright, maybe they're not strange, but for the longest time I did not understand them. As a culinary enthusiast (I don't cook much, but I love to eat), I couldn't fathom why someone would want to eliminate a whole food group from their diet. Especially meat.

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I couldn't imagine how anyone could survive without steak, chicken, ham, pork, and most importantly, bacon. Then, I actually befriended one of those odd individuals. She had been a vegetarian most of her life and swore that it was one of the "best choices" she ever made. When I asked her why, she told me that vegetarians are much healthier and live longer than people who eat meat. Naturally, I was and still am skeptical. It's always been my belief that anything is fine in moderation. That's why in this two-part blog, I intend to be as objective as possible and look at both sides of the argument. First, I'll examine a source claiming that vegetarianism is healthier than a diet with meat.

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association, vegetarians live longer than meat eaters. Researchers at Loma Linda University in California "tracked 73,308 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for almost six years. Researchers then found out what type of diet participants ate". They were then sorted into categories including "non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian - includes seafood, lacto-ovo-vegetarian - includes dairy and egg products, and vegan - excludes all animal products". Every year, the researchers sent out a questionnaire to find out the current health status of the subjects and more importantly "how many of those participants had died and how." After the study was complete, the researchers controlled and adjusted for the following factors...

    Age

    Gender

    Race

    Smoking status

    Exercise

    Income

    Education

    Marital status

    Alcohol intake

   Geographical region

•  Amount of sleep per night

At the end of the study, the research showed that vegetarians experienced 12% fewer deaths over the period than did regular meat eaters. Furthermore, they decided that being vegetarian played "a big role in protecting the participants from heart disease, from which vegetarians were 19% less likely to die than meat-eaters."

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From this data, the researchers concluded that there is a strong "overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the non-vegetarian dietary pattern.... [and] some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the non-vegetarian diet."

However, like in all scientific studies, the credibility of the findings must be carefully analyzed.  Overall, the study seems to be solid. There were a lot of controls, a very large sample size, and a significant difference in the death rates of vegetarians when compared to meat-eaters. Yet, the research was far from perfect.

To start, the study was observational and a cause and effect relationship cannot be established from the results of observational data. Another problem is that, because the sample size was so big, there was no real way to ensure that the participants were following the diets that they initially classified themselves in at the beginning of the study. Participant bias could have also affected how people filled out the portion of the questionnaire about their health status. The subject pool was also from a single church. Therefore, even though some of their demographics were controlled, the participant pool might not be a good representative of the human population as a whole. 

As a result, from this study alone, I cannot definitively say that vegetarianism is any healthier than a diet with meat. I tried to find an experimental study on whether vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, but could not. Therefore, without more scientific evidence, a rational person should not become a vegetarian with the rationale that it will prolong their life. 

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