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With recent debate over the effect of saturated fat on our health, a new study has added more fuel to the meat-eater’s fire. Though the study found vegetarian diets were associated with lower BMI, less-frequent alcohol consumption, and higher socioeconomic position, vegetarianism was linked to poorer overall health with higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental-health disorders. What’s more, non-meat eaters showed a higher need for health care and a poorer quality of life.
The study included 1320 participants, all from Austria, evenly split into four specific diet groups — "vegetarian, carnivorous diet rich in fruits and vegetables, carnivorous diet less rich in meat, and carnivorous diet rich in meat." Socioeconomic status, body mass, and lifestyle factors (including exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption) were also measured — and taken into account when comparing individuals.
The study found that vegetarians had higher rates (9.8%) of mental disorders (anxiety and depression) than all other groups, though it's unknown whether some nutrition deficit in vegetarian diets causes mental health problems or whether personality traits associated with anxiety and depression somehow make individuals more likely to become vegetarians. Vegetarians also reported a higher incidence of chronic illness, but it's certainly possible that they turned to meat-free diets to treat a chronic illness rather than vegetarianism somehow causing those illnesses. Vegetarians did have a lower incidence of high blood pressure as compared to all other groups except carnivorous folks that also heavily ate fruits and veggies. But interestingly, they had a higher incidence of heart attack. (Again, this could be individuals turning to vegetarianism following a heart attack.)
Previous research has pointed to an all-plant diet as one of the healthiest out there with lower mortality rates and lower risk for contracting a host of chronic diseases.
Other studies call out the possible nutrient deficiencies of an animal-free diet. Suffice to say, the exact health profile of every diet — from veganism all the way to full-on meat eating — isn’t black and white. We’ve got to point out this study was limited to Austrian participants (and weighed heavily on the female side of the spectrum). Plus, the state of each person’s health was self-reported, so that leaves some wiggle room in results — it's certainly possible that vegetarians are more conscientious about their health (or more observant or more obsessive), all of which could lead them to report more health issues than compared to other groups. The researchers also noted this specific study cannot provide any insight into the long-term consequences of sticking to a meat-filled or meat-free diet, so maybe there’s no need to drop the veggie sandwich and head straight to the butcher just yet. (CBS)