Vegetarians (on the whole) live longer lives than classic meat eaters. It is thought the benefits come from lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels in people eating low-fat diets based on vegetables, whole grains and fruit. Official advice from the Department of Health in 2010 said cutting down on red meat could reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
In addition, Liz O’Neill, head of communications at the Vegetarian Society said ‘With higher intakes of fresh vegetables, pulses and other plant-foods, it seems obvious to many that balanced vegetarian diets are healthier than those reliant on meat.
Another interesting fact is that vegetarians are more likely to live active lives and exercise, increasing their chances of a healthy, longer life. People who don't eat meat also proved to be less-likely to smoke and drink alcohol.
Too much meat and cheese may be a recipe for disaster. This is the conclusion according to a new study that links the consumption of animal-based protein to an increased risk of early death for people in their 50s and early 60s.
The study of more than 6,000 American adults found those between the ages of 50 and 65 with diets high in animal protein were 74 percent more likely to meet an untimely end than those who consumed less animal protein or got their protein from non-animal sources.
For deaths due to cancer, the risk was four times higher, according to the study.
Eating plant-based proteins like nuts and beans seemed to reverse the unhealthy trend. And after the age of 65, the trend dissipated, suggesting that a diet high in protein from animals or plants can be beneficial later in life.
"The main message is to go to a safe level of protein and try as much as possible to have those proteins come from plant-based products," said Dr. Valter D. Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and lead author of the study, published today in the journal Cell Metabolism. "The advice was that everyone should have high protein. That's not the case."
Why did the effect disappear with older people? As we age, our demand for protein increases. So getting more of it from a host of sources after 65 is important in extending our longevity, the study found. The patients whose diets were packed with protein were more than 25 percent less likely to meet an early death.
What we know for sure is older people have a problem getting enough protein," said Keith Ayoob, registered dietician and associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. The condition is known as sarcopenia, and is estimated to affect nearly half of seniors by the time they reach eighty years of age.
Ayoob's advice for seniors is simple.
"Look at where your diet is excessive and where it is deficient and make up the differences," he said.
While this study found that routinely eating too much animal-based protein could be a problem, it does not mean that meat and cheese are poison. On the contrary, these foods can provide many vital nutrients that are not easily found in other foods.
Nutrition and medical experts who spoke with ABC News noted that a limitation in the study is that it groups all animal-based proteins together, ignoring the healthier options that exist among them. Nonfat yogurt and a ballpark hot dog are no match in terms of fat content, cholesterol or nutrients.
So for now, moderation is key. A well-balanced diet that covers all the major food groups - and goes a little easier on the meat and cheese - may be best for a healthy future.