Vegetarians Don’t Live Longer Than Meat Eaters

Arranged Vegetables Creating a Face

A vegetarian diet is widely thought to be healthy. Bias in favor of it is pervasive, given that for several decades the health establishment has denigrated meat and saturated fat as causing heart disease and even cancer. Unfortunately, the bias appears to be false, since vegetarians don’t live longer, as we’ll see in this article.

Seventh-Day Adventists and vegetarianism

The Seventh-Day Adventists are a Christian religious denomination that advocates vegetarianism. Not all Adventists are vegetarians but the church strongly promotes the practice to its members, and to others as well. They’ve been characterized as having an “anti-meat agenda”.

Some studies done in Seventh-Day Adventists have found lower mortality rates in the vegetarians among them.

However, a recent meta-analysis (analysis of other studies) found “that there is modest cardiovascular benefit, but no clear reduction in overall mortality associated with a vegetarian diet. This evidence of benefit is driven mainly by studies in SDA [Seventh-Day Adventists], whereas the effect of vegetarian diet in other cohorts remains unproven.”

The study found that the only evidence of “modest” benefit was in studies using Adventists.

Adventists also have a high intake of fruits and vegetables, are encouraged to abstain from alcohol and smoking, they have a low divorce rate and of course are religious.

All of these factors could help explain better health among them, with vegetarianism playing little to no role.

Likewise, non-Adventist vegetarians are more likely to have all of these factors also. Less smoking and drinking, more exercise, less likely to be overweight, in general, to be much more health conscious. Studies that have found better health among vegetarians that did not correct for these factors haven’t truly isolated the factor of vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism in a large population

A recent study done in Australia looked at 267,180 men and women age 45 and over, part of the 45 and Up cohort study. Following adjustment for confounding factors – like those mentioned above, such as smoking, body mass index, etc. – they found that vegetarians don’t live longer than others.

Following extensive adjustment for potential confounding factors there was no significant difference in all-cause mortality for vegetarians versus non-vegetarians. There was also no significant difference in mortality risk between pesco-vegetarians or semi-vegetarians versus regular meat eaters. We found no evidence that following a vegetarian diet, semi-vegetarian diet or a pesco-vegetarian diet has an independent protective effect on all-cause mortality.

Whether the subjects never ate meat, or only seldom, or whether they ate only fish, the results were the same. The study did not distinguish between vegans, who eat no animal products at all, and vegetarians, however.

What this means

Several conclusions can be drawn from this study.

One is that other studies that found better health outcomes in vegetarians, but did not adjust for other health factors, are heavily biased, simply because vegetarians and non-vegetarians are not drawn from the same group of people. Vegetarians are more health conscious, probably also higher IQ and socioeconomic status, exercise more, etc., and those factors, not refraining from eating meat, are what drive health differences.

The second conclusion is more important.

We’ve been, and are being, told by multiple health authorities that eating meat is the main factor behind the epidemic of modern diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.

Based on this study, that cannot be true. If meat caused heart disease and the rest, we could expect to see large differences in death rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. But we don’t.

The hypothesis of meat as the cause of modern disease is a phantom.

Dietary causes of modern diseases are themselves likely to be modern, in which case we should be looking at sugar, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oil, all of which are either modern or the consumption of which has increased radically and coincided with the onset of modern diseases.

The foods that man has eaten for a couple million years, such as meat and fish, should have killed off the human race if they were harmful. Instead, humans populated the earth while eating them.

Meat is a health food.

Did health authorities get anything right?

Is anything that mainstream health authorities recommend correct?

Smoking is bad, and exercise is good, so they got those right.

But saturated fat and cholesterol bad? Wrong.

Meat is unhealthy? Wrong.

Fortifying food with iron? A mistake.

Statins? Also a mistake.

Low-fat diets for weight loss? Nope.

You should be skeptical of what mainstream health authorities recommend. In many cases, it would be wiser to do the opposite.

Here’s my video I did today on this topic.

PS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

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  1. Bill says:

    Thanks again PD. I will look through the Sydney study in more detail as it is a study of us here in Australia.

    I was for quite a while vegetarian. However it was not for health reasons as such or I thought that vegetarians live longer. Rather it was for ‘ethical’ reasons. Unfortunately this type of reasoning lies behind many people being vegetarian and has spawned the vegan movement as well leading to folks assuming a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. And that lead me to abandon the whole vegetarian thing as just moralistic point scoring.

    So nowadays I enjoy dairy foods, eggs, lamb and beef and fish etc. All good tucker.

  2. Mellie Walks says:

    Nice article! I love the summary at the end: “You should be skeptical of what mainstream health authorities recommend. In many cases, it would be wiser to do the opposite.”

  3. Jillian says:

    I don’t know. I’ve never been fat, however, I cannot stay really slim if I eat meat. I eat no sugar, no processed foods, no vegetable oils, no dairy, no meat. If vegetarians don’t live longer than meat eaters, apparently, meat eaters also do not live longer than vegetarians. Additionally, I feel physically much better eating a vegan, no sugar diet, than I ever did when I ate red meat. Also, years ago I went on a strict Pritikin diet for runners which included eating poultry and I felt great.

    • peter connor says:

      I asked my therapist, Reiki master, and friend who is very much a vegan “type” about her diet. She said she has tried everything, including vegan and raw food, but has determined that she absolutely needs meat in her diet….She is slim and healthy and looks much younger than her age…I personally have always had a very meat oriented diet.

  4. Charles says:

    From the study – Our study has some strengths and limitations. We were able to evaluate data from large datasets with long duration of follow-up which enabled the capturing of sufficient outcome events. Furthermore, we were able to stratify the analysis based on SDA and non-SDA studies as well as male and females. However, our study was limited because adherence to vegetarian diet could not be ascertained because of the nature of the data collection using dietary questionnaires and long follow-up period. In addition, the vegetarian diets may differ as one of the included studies showed different mortality rates with different types of vegetarians (vegan, lacto-ovo, pesco, semi) [13]. There were also differences in the use of adjustments for confounders and previous studies have highlighted the importance of adjusting for weight, smoking and alcohol in vegetarian studies.”

    • peter connor says:

      Fundamentally, I don’t believe that our paleo ancestors, who consumed meat and fish in quantity, could have evolved to subsist on vegetables alone in a mere 7-8,0000 years. So I simply don’t believe studies that veganism is healthier, or even as healthy. I have, however, noticed that women handle vegan much better than men….

  5. How can we account for the difference between studies that show vegetarians live longer and studies that show no benefit? One factor is that vegetarians have an easier time controlling their weight. The present study adjusts for weight differences before evaluating the difference between vegetarians and carnivores. The 7th Day Adventist study did not. 11% of the vegetarians were obese compared with 22% of the carnivores.
    “Our findings suggest that differences in crude mortality between groups were due to other factors and not the vegetarian diet.”

    One interpretation is that, vegetarian diet helps to keep weight down, but if you can keep weight off with a meat-eating diet, you can expect health results comparable to vegetarians.

    I also note that the pesco-vegetarians did best, and the difference between vegetarian diets with and without fish looks significant, though the authors did not report this comparison.

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      Thanks, Josh. To my mind, everyone is looking at the wrong things, diet-wise. A vegetarian diet can include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, french fries, potato chips, chocolate cake, and Coca-Cola, all of which are demonstrably unhealthy. And of course a meat-eater may eat those things too. There’s an assumption that a vegetarian may be eating all manner of healthy fruits and vegetables when in reality they may subsist on Cheerios and pasta. Findings that meat-eaters may have worse health don’t account for the hot dog and hamburger buns that often accompany meat, or the sodas and french fries. It’s obvious that someone eating all the garbage I just mentioned will have a hard time staying lean, and meat doesn’t seem to have anything to do with that.

  6. Steve says:

    Good job as usual. Yep, even the China Study DATA shows that there is no advantage to Vegetarianism, yet the author is in a movie telling us the opposite of the data! It protects against some cancers, and others are more prevalent. Funny to see all the lying researchers in movies and print selling their lies, while the data tells us the opposite. (Framingham study, China study, and numerous others on PFA’s, Statins, etc. showing the exact opposite of the religious belief systems) also, it seems that they don’t even understand basic stats, when they get 1-2% improvements it is well within any standard deviation and also below the threshold for placebo! entire industries built on religion and foundations of sand! The BMJ agrees and says that 80% of papers are basically unrepeatable which means they are Fraud. A quick look at Chemo shows that for the bulk of cancers 5 year survivor rates are around 2% (placebo again). any other industry that keeps doing the same thing with 98% failure rates is the definition of insanity and would be closed down by the men in white coats…oh, they are running the insane asylum.

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      Thanks. I understand T Colin Campbell is reversing his stance on saturated fat. Now I’m just waiting for McDougall to come around – ha ha, will never happen.

  7. Nick says:

    They got salt wrong too. You’ve written about it and James’s book.

  8. Guillaume says:

    Vegetarian diets on average have a much lower iron content and this iron is less absorb-able, that is the main superiority over a meat based diet. As you know from this blog, iron is the thing to avoid.
    The longest living populations are all plant based with very little meat and some fish. Think Crete diet and Okinawa diet.
    My guess is that meat has content that we need only in small quantity (I’m thinking creatine and B12 vitamin) that can’t be found easily in the pure vegetarian diet, but meat contains loads of iron so daily consumption of meat is not the best.
    From observing the longest living populations, the best trade off is probably vegetarian except for meat once a week and fish twice a week.
    The best of both worlds probably.
    Last point, I myself eat fish 3 x a week, no meat, I supplement in creatine. I think avoiding meat helps me to keep my iron in check and my omega3/omega6 in check.

    I think the vegetarian against meat-eaters is too polarized, the truth is probably in between

    • Allan Folz says:

      “Vegetarian diets on average have a much lower iron content and this iron is less absorb-able”

      I had that same “Aha” after reading Dennis’ book on iron. It would be hilariously and fittingly ironic if the entirety of vegetarians’ purported health advantage is from lower iron levels — not the saturated fat, cholesterol, nitrates, salt, carcinogens from cooking, etc., but iron. Iron. The one thing experts NEVER warned us about, and have taken pains to add to most all favored staples of vegetarians.

      Dennis, I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention that among the explanations for why vegetarians may do better; except that, well, you’re saying they don’t. 🙂

      I guess one could say, unless iron level has been explicitly accounted for, any results a study shows is confounded by vegetarians’ lower iron levels.

      OK, never let it be said I’m oblivious to my own begging the question… has anyone one done studies to compare iron levels of vegetarians against comparable groups of meat-eaters?

      • P. D. Mangan says:

        Allan, and Guillaume: Body iron stores rise due to a number of things: meat, sugar, alcohol, iron fortification and supplements, diabetes, genes, and rate of loss. While on the whole, one would expect vegetarians to have lower iron levels, other factors could override that. One would also have to check for lower iron, since the situation is similar to that of omega-3 supplementation, not a drug trial, in which only one group gets the treatment. A recent article on a study that vegetarian men were more likely to be depressed speculated that iron might be the culprit, yet there are so many nutrients in meat it’s simplistic to single out iron.

        There are some studies showing vegetarians have higher rates of iron deficiency anemia. On the other hand, other studies show that people with low ferritin live longer. Seems possible that vegetarian diets may have the advantage there, but other factors override that.

        Also, beware the temptation of thinking that they eat little meat in Okinawa and Crete. Much of that idea appears to be ill-founded.

  9. danka says:

    Great stuff. Thanks for debunking this Dennis!

  10. Joel says:

    The study that needs to be done is “health-conscious meat eaters versus health-conscious vegetarians (or vegans): people who exercise regularly and are conscious of healthy living: non-smokers, alcohol abstainers, people who don’t eat French fries, who eat the burger but not the bun, etc.

    “Meat eaters” in most studies includes people who also eat the crappy carbs.

    Of course, the 7th Day Adventists and other vegan/vegetatarians have no incentive to properly control for these things…my guess is they are afraid of how the results will come back: low-carb meat eaters who regularly exercise are almost certainly the healthiest among us.

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