Sunday, April 6, 2014

On the Austrian Vegetarian Study

 Researchers at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria, recently published a study that included an analysis of vegetarian diets (available in PDF here). Lots of European papers (and a few in the U.S. as well) are reporting on the study with titles like, "Vegetarians are 'less healthy' and have a poorer quality of life than meat-eaters". Frequent D&O reader and my husband, JH, responds to the study: 

. . . It's worth noting that this study has some pretty significant limitations: it only followed 330 vegetarians, all of them Austrian, and apparently didn't attain a representative sample, as over 75% of the subjects for the study were women.

So, I think we should take this one with a pretty big grain of salt (while of course open-mindedly waiting to see if any of these findings are replicated), especially given the fact that the general consensus among folks who study nutrition goes sharply in the opposite direction.  So, for example, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the world) published a position paper on this a few years ago and found, based on a huge meta-analysis of the relevant science, that vegetarians were healthier than nonvegetarians in a number of areas, including lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Their official position is that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."

An independent meta-analysis published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Nutrition in 2012 concluded that "vegetarian diets have not shown any adverse effects on health" though they do note that "restrictive and monotonous vegetarian diets may result in nutrient deficiencies with deleterious effects on health."  So, vegetarians do of course have to be smart about what they eat.  But then, so does everyone else.