It’s no secret that a diet focused on plant-based foods can be good for your health. (Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
Vegetarians
A plant-based diet may not lead to a longer life than one that includes meat

THE QUESTION It’s no secret that a diet focused on plant-based foods can be good for your health. Might a vegetarian diet also help you live longer?

THIS STUDY analyzed data from two studies that involved 60,310 people, most in their mid-40s at the start of their study. It compared mortality rates among vegetarians and three types of non-vegetarians: those who ate meat five or more times a week, those who ate meat less often, and those who ate fish but no meat at all. Of the participants who ate meat, 59 percent did so five or more times a week. About a third of the study participants were vegetarians, who ate no meat, fish or poultry. That group included both those who ate dairy products and eggs and those who did not. In a span that averaged 17 years, 5,294 people died before age 90. Overall, essentially no difference was found in the mortality rates of the various diet groups. Differences were found in some specific causes of death. Compared with people who ate the most meat, those who ate meat less often were 30 to 45 percent less likely to have died from respiratory disease and pancreatic cancer; people who ate fish but not meat had a 20 percent lower mortality rate from malignant cancers and a 20 percent higher mortality rate from circulatory disease. Vegetarians were 50 percent less likely than meat-eaters to have died from pancreatic or lymphatic cancer.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults. Whether following a vegetarian or non-vegetarian eating plan, people need to consume foods that provide the energy and nutrients they need. Nutritional requirements vary some from person to person. Also, research over the years has revealed pros and cons to most diets.

CAVEATS About three-fourths of the participants were women. The authors described some of the differences in mortality rates for specific causes of death as hard to explain, adding that further research was needed.

FIND THIS STUDY January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (ajcn.nutrition.org).

LEARN MORE ABOUT vegetarian eating at newsinhealth.nih.gov (search for “vegetarian diet”) and mayoclinic.org (search for “vegetarian diet”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.