A new study suggests that vegetarians are much healthier than meat eaters, even when taking into account factors such as age, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
This research, from the University of Glasgow, which examined the biomarkers of more than 166,000 UK adults, looked at the association with 19 blood and urine biomarkers in relation to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health and kidney function.
Participants, who were between the ages of 37 and 73, were put into two categories, vegetarian (refrained from red meat, poultry or fish; 4,111 participants) and meat-eaters (166,516 participants).
It was discovered that vegetarians had fewer ‘biomarkers’ connected with health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and kidney function issues.
However, it was also found that vegetarians had lower levels of beneficial biomarkers, including vitamin D and calcium, which are both linked to healthy bones and joints.
They were also found to have significantly higher level of fats (triglycerides) in the blood as well as cystatin-C, pointing towards a poorer kidney condition.
Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, who led the research, said:
Our findings offer real food for thought. As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds.
These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.
Biomarkers have previously been widely used to examine the effect that a person’s diet has on their health. However, evidence of the metabolic benefits associated with a vegetarian diet remains unclear.
Although this was a large study, the authors have emphasised that the research was observational, meaning that no conclusions can be made as of yet in regards to direct cause and effect.
Several limitations were also noted, including the fact that biomarker samples were only tested once for each participant, allowing for the possibility that biomarkers may fluctuate depending on non diet related factors, for example, existing diseases and unmeasured lifestyle factors.
Researchers also noted that the study was reliant on participants to record their dietary intake using food frequency questionnaires, a method which is not always completely reliable.
These findings were presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO).
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