What are the health benefits of eating less red meat? Let's begin by looking at a brief overview of the birth of veganism.
The man behind the vegan movement lived to be 95 years old, a feat that he credited to his plant-based diet and his need to outlive his critics to prove that veganism was the healthiest lifestyle.
Englishman Donald Watson, who created the word "vegan" and founded The Vegan Society in 1944, was convinced that veganism was not only the most moral lifestyle but the healthiest.
But do vegans live longer than other people? What is the vegan life expectancy? Let's take a look.
Research undertaken by scientists at the Massachusetts General Hospital monitored health and diet records of more than 130,000 people over 30 years.
They found that just a 3 percent increase in calories from plant protein (as opposed to animal protein) could reduce the risk of death before age 90 by 10 percent.
That 3 percent increase also corresponded with a 12 percent reduction of the risk of dying before 90 from cardiovascular disease.
However, this may not mean that much, given that many people will die of natural causes well before the age of 90.
By contrast, eating 10 percent more animal protein may lead to a 2 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 8 percent higher chance of dying from heart disease.
That's no surprise when you consider that meat, eggs, and dairy-based foods are high in cardiovascular-disease, causing artery-clogging cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories.
They don't contain fiber or various vitamins, and in addition to lacking those benefits, are often full of hormones, toxins, and antibiotics that are linked to cancer or other health problems.
The findings suggest people should consider eating more plant protein than animal proteins, and that, when they do choose among sources of animal protein, fish and chicken are probably better choices.
Do plant-based eaters get more vitamins than meat-eaters? The EPIC-Oxford Study examined some 65,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 97.
The purpose of the study was to examine how diet influences the risk of developing cancer. The subjects had different dietary habits and backgrounds, allowing the authors to study the differences between vegetarians vs meat eaters.
Researchers compared overall nutrient intake and found that vegetarians and vegans had the highest intake of fiber, vitamin B1, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and magnesium.
But they had the lowest intakes of retinol, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and zinc. Meat eaters got some of these nutrients, but they also consumed less fiber and more saturated fat.
The study found that in general, vegans and vegetarians ate more vegetables and legumes and less junk food than meat-eaters.
They also took more supplements.
So if it is true that vegans and vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, meat might not be the culprit.
Vegans - more than meat eaters - are more likely to consume healthier foods and to be more health conscious in general.
We expect that in the sample sets of these studies that the plant-based eaters included more health conscious individuals who don't smoke or drink and get more exercise than the overall population of surveyed meat-eaters.
No study conducted to date has been able to address this inherent bias when comparing the two groups, with is why there is no definitive answer to the question of whether eating animal products has any effect on life expectancy.
But ultimately, the EPIC Oxford-study found that there was no difference in overall cancer mortality between vegetarians (including vegans) and people who eat animal products.
Vegetarians had lower rates of death from pancreatic and lymphatic cancers, but not colorectal, lung, breast, or ovarian cancers.
The rate of vegans deaths from cancer was not significantly different than that of people who eat animal products; however, some observers have pointed out that the sample of vegans in the study was too small to be statistically significant.
For years, researchers at Loma Linda University in California have been conducting various studies to determine whether vegans and vegetarians live longer than the rest of the population.
The research was begun in 1958 and included various studies of Seventh-Day Adventists, many of whom eat vegetarian (vs meat eater) as part of their religious practices.
While the research is ongoing, the results already indicate that, on average, vegetarian men and women live at least nine and six years longer, respectively, than their meat-eating counterparts.
This finding can't be automatically attributed to their diet, however. Many Seventh-Day Adventists don't drink alcohol, smoke, or consume caffeine, all of which are also public health issues that can reduce life expectancy and quality of life.
The research also indicates that, in general, vegans are 30 pounds leaner—and five units lighter in terms of BMI.
The study also found that vegetarians and people who follow a plant-based diet are less insulin-resistant than meat-eaters, which means they are ultimately at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A more recent study published in 2019 in The Journal of Nutrition found that vegans had higher levels of antioxidant carotenoids, isoflavones, and enterolactone than vegetarians and those who eat meat.
These levels correspond to less potential for inflammation that can ultimately cause cancer and other diseases. Results for vegetarians were similar, but the consequences for those who only ate a partially vegetarian diet did not differ significantly from those of people who eat red meat.
While the researchers take into account the study participants' genetics as well as social factors, it's been noted that their eating habits are the primary reason they're able to maintain healthy body weight and enjoy longevity.
Vegan foods are cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat and high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients.
They're often packed with protein and cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and vegans can quickly obtain all the vitamins (including B12 and D) and minerals (including calcium and iron) that they need.
Whether or not a study is ever conducted that proves beyond a doubt that vegans and vegetarians live longer than their red-meat-loving brothers, there are other health benefits to consuming plant-based nutrition.
This study found that vegetarians (including vegans) have lower blood pressure, less risk of heart disease, and a lower chance of developing diabetes than their meat-eating friends.
Vegans contribute to making the world a better place. Affluent societies that do not need to eat meat and have access to plenty of food can pave the way for the next generations.
This way of life could lead to a world without industry-led farming, with reduced CO2 emissions, and in which the global population never goes hungry.
Being a vegan does not ensure that you will live longer. Everyone is different, and anything can happen.
Also, it's possible to eat a vegan diet consisting of potato chips and breakfast cereal, which certainly won't help anyone live longer.
But a balanced, healthy vegan diet based on whole foods and with an eye towards proper nutrition is a great idea nevertheless.
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A vegan freelance web designer and blog writer based out of Austin, Texas USA.
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