A recent health study from Medical University Graz in Austria has made claims that are contrary to some of the claims of the vegetarian community. Their study shows that those following a vegetarian diet have some increased health risks when compared to their omnivore counterparts. However, before you abandon one diet for another, there is a great deal in their study that casts shadows regarding the reason behind these increased risks.
Strengths of a vegetarian diet
On the positive side, reports that vegetarians have lower rates of hypertension, cholesterol problems, some chronic denigrative diseases, coronary artery disease and Type 2 Diabetes are true. In general, vegetarians have a lower body mass index (BMI), have a higher socioeconomic status, and have better health behavior. They are more physically active, smoke less, and drink less alcohol.
Weaknesses of a vegetarian diet
From there, the findings are more disturbing. Vegetarians are reported to have a higher rate of mental disorders, have worse preventative health care, seek medical treatment more often, and in general have a lower quality of life. In addition, vegetarians report poorer health and more chronic conditions. It also claims that vegetarians report more nutrient deficiencies.
Weaknesses in the study
This is where questions begin to arise regarding the reasons for the studies findings.
In general, vegetarians tend to eat more fresh, minimally processed foods than their omnivore counterparts. Fresh foods avoid additives, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup. What this study does not examine is whether the decrease in health risks is due to avoiding red meat, or from avoiding all of the other things that are included in processed foods.
Another area that is mentioned in the study regards the overall poorer health of vegetarians. Do vegetarians have poorer health as a result of their diet, or did they adopt this diet because of existing health problems?
Overall the study makes no claims about whether or not a vegetarian diet is healthier than an omnivore diet. To it's credit, the study does acknowledge it's weaknesses, and it makes the case that further study is needed.
This study is just another piece in the healthy eating puzzle. While it raises more questions than it answers, it is useful to get people thinking about their diet, and to further explore healthy options in deciding what to eat.