The Vegetarian Diet: Is It Really Healthy for You?

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Is a Vegetarian Diet Really Healthy for YouThe vegetarian diet is typically viewed as being healthy; and compared to the average American diet, it is. Substituting fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains for fatty burgers, French fries, pulled pork sandwiches, and microwave dinners offers a number of health benefits.

But a new study from the Medical University in Graz, Austria is saying things aren’t exactly as they seem. In their work, a research team noted that although vegetarians tended to have a lower BMI (body mass index) and drank less alcohol, they had a lower quality of life and were less healthy than their meat-eating counterparts.

In fact, researches noted that even though a vegetarian diet is low in cholesterol and saturated fats, vegetarians showed a 50% increase in heart attacks and risk of cancer incidents. They were also twice as likely to have allergies and significantly more likely to experience anxiety or depression.

Now these data raise some serious questions, and personally, I’m not willing to fully accept the study’s conclusions without further work. There is overwhelming evidence that fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are extremely healthy because they are nutrient-rich, low in calories, and feature many disease-fighting nutrients.

That said, vegetarian diets can lack some key nutrients that are best supplied by meat or fish, like omega-3 fatty acids (from fish), calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 (from dairy, eggs, and meat).

The debate will likely continue for some time, but this research does offer something to think about. To me, it says that the best way to eat is through a balanced approach to nutrition. When you eat one thing exclusively, you’re missing out on all kinds of nutrients. Whether all you eat is meat or vegetables, you’re leaving a lot on the table and denying yourself the nutrition that contributes to your overall health.

Staying away from an abundance of sugary and processed foods is very important, whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat-eater, as is limiting saturated fats and foods that contribute to high cholesterol.

Any extreme diet has its pros and cons, so before you decide to adopt an eating pattern, do some research and make sure you find a way to get all your essential nutrients. But for the most part, if you want to be in good health, it appears as though a balanced approach, based on a variety of fresh food, is the best way to promote your health.

Sources for Today’s Article:

Innes, E., “Vegetarians are ‘less healthy’ and have a poorer quality of life than meat-eaters,” Daily Mail web site, April 3, 2014; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2596012/Vegetarians-healthy-poorer-quality-life-meat-eaters.html, last accessed April 15, 2014.

Sabaté, J., “The contribution of vegetarian diets to health and disease: a paradigm shift?” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition web site, 2003; http://go-med.ca/Documents/Educational/Sabate%20(2003).pdf, last accessed April 15, 2014.




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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »