Go veggie, live longer
People who follow a vegetarian diet can enjoy an almost 12 per cent lower mortality rate than their meat loving counterparts, a new study has found. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in June, followed 70,000 members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church over a six year period.
"Vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and with some reductions in cause-specific mortality," the authors concluded. "Results appeared to be more robust in males. These favorable associations should be considered carefully by those offering dietary guidance."
While most of us know we should be getting five serves of veg a day, we don't always understand why or how it contributes to living a longer life.
Nutritionist and health author Dr Rebecca Harwin says that the consumption of meat increases inflammation in the body and is the cause behind many of our modern day diseases.
"The chance of falling victim to one of our major killers such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be increased for meat eaters due to their exposure to hormonal disrupting toxins and potentially harmful bacteria," she says. "Increased consumption of processed meats and fatty red meat can largely be to blame."
On the flip side, a vegetarian diet consisting of a variety of fruit and vegetables boosts valuable antioxidant levels which assist in combating inflammation. Add to this a higher intake of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre and other vitamins and minerals and it is easy to understand the results from this study.
It's a common misconception that vegetarians are more likely to get sick due to the lack of iron intake from meat. Dr Harwin says that with careful meal planning it is entirely possible to receive all the nutrients required for a healthy life from a vegetarian diet. "Protein, iron, B12, zinc and omega 3 fats are all essential to maintaining energy and wellbeing," she says.
However, simply eliminating meat will not automatically improve your health. It is essential to consider your nutrient intake. Dr Harwin suggests the following ought to be staples of any vegetarian diet:
Organic blueberries - These nutritional powerhouses contain potent antioxidants, vitamin C and fibre. They are helpful for increasing your iron and iron absorption, are low calorie and have a low glycemic load.
Cruciferous vegetables (AKA broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) - These veggies provide vitamin B2, C, K, bioflavonoids, and potassium. Studies have shown they may help to fight cancer, improve hormone balance and protect against heart disease.
Nuts - These are a filling source of healthy protein and fats with a low glycemic load. The perfect energy-boosting snack.
Leafy greens - Think kale, spinach and lettuce. These 'green leafies' contain calcium, potassium and iron, as well as vitamins A and C.
Avocado - This great nutrient rich food contains fibre, vitamins C and E, antioxidants and healthy fat.
What if you can't bear the thought of giving up your lamb chops? Current guidelines recommend eating red meat three to four times per week with a serve measuring 65 to 100 grams. For many this means upping the ante on our intake of veggies.
Dr Harwin suggests getting creative in the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes. "Foods such as soups, salads and pizzas are great for packing in extra vegetables," she says. "Ensure the variety is there and you'll reap the benefits of the wide array of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and 'live energy' that can be found in non-meat produce."
If you're a meat-eater, it's also not just the quantity, but the type of meat that's important to consider.
Dietician Dr Naras Lapsys is an advocate for meat in moderation and says that the human body is designed to more efficiently absorb particular nutrients such as iron from an animal protein source. "Lamb, kangaroo, duck breast and venison are all examples of good lean meat," he says. "These varieties of game meat are better options from a health perspective as the animals are generally grass fed. Grain feeding or partly grain feeding animals such as cattle results in more marbling and fat in the meat which causes the health problems associated with this type of diet."