Vegetarians vs. meat-eaters: Standoff is over

Until recently, due to the lack of quality statistical studies, too great of a role in the great debate between vegetarians and meat eaters was played by a rhetorical component. A large-scale study involving 120,000 people showed that consumption of red meat significantly reduces life expectancy.

The position of vegetarians, due to the lack of data on long-term effects of meat diet on health, often boiled down to not always scientifically sound and ethical reasoning. The meat eaters recognized the proven harm of pre-processed (smoked, canned, freeze dried, etc.) meat and large amounts of animal fats. However, they stood their ground, indicating that the nutrient properties of freshly prepared meats (also unproven scientifically) are more important than hypothetical long-term risk of meat diet.

A large study conducted by a group of doctors from the Harvard School of Public Health, who worked under the guidance of Doctor of Medicine An Pan, revealed that fears of vegetarians are absolutely justified. Consumption of red meat is clearly correlated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and metabolic diseases, while the replacement of meat from mammals with fish and poultry greatly reduces this risk.

The findings are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine – the journal of the American Medical Association.

In the analysis of long-term effects on meat diet, An Pan and his colleagues relied on a statistical study of an impressive scale. A total of 37,698 men and 83,644 women participated in the study. Their health, along with the diet, was tracked for 28 years in the second group, and for 22 years in the first group. During this time, 23,926 deaths were recorded in the two groups surveyed, of which 5,910 – from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 – from cancer.

“We found that higher consumption of red meat is associated with a significant increase in mortality from these diseases, and this relationship can be traced in the case of pre-processed and freshly prepared meats, with higher correlations for the pre-processed. When replacing red meat with fish, vegetables and poultry, there was an inverse relationship – reduced mortality,” the authors commented on the results of the study.

The study revealed that in total life expectancy falls by 13% in case of daily consumption of freshly prepared meat the size of a palm, and a whopping 20% ​​of the daily consumption of portions of pre-processed meats – a hot dog or two strips of bacon. For the disease that became the cause of death in both groups, the dependence of risks from the consumption of red meat was as follows: the risk of cardiovascular disease increased by 18% and 21% for fresh and processed meat, respectively, and cancer – by 10% and 16%.

These numbers can be considered statistically neutral, that is, free from those observed during the variables such as age, body mass index, physical activity and family history of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is also important that all the observed members of the group were physically healthy at the start of the study.

In the second part of the analysis, the authors assessed the combined effect of replacing red meat with other foodstuffs. It was found that the risk of death in case of the exclusion of red meat from the diet is lowered if the daily portion of meat is replaced by a portion of fish (by 7%), poultry (by 14%), nuts (by 19%), vegetables (by 10%) and cereals (by 14%).

“We also found that 9.3% of deaths among men and 7.6% among women could be prevented in the observed period of time if all participants reduced their daily consumption of red meat by 50%,” summarized the researchers.

In other words, three and a half thousand men and six thousand women who participated in the study would have survived if they had cut their meat consumption by at least in half.

Vadim Kirillov


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20 Responses to "Vegetarians vs. meat-eaters: Standoff is over"

  1. Tere1494  March 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I don´t know why they always say that FISH is not meat. C´MON they also are animals, they are living beings. But I´m happy that finally someone is telling the truth SCIENTIFICALLY :)

  2. Dannyboy  March 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Tere1494: What truth? The risk of death is lowered MORE (14% versus 10%) if one replaces meat with poultry than with vegetables. Poultry = birds = animals.

  3. Sebastian Bodden  March 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Nothing really new.
    Pre-processed and red meat = bad
    Poultry and fish = good (as long as it doesn’t contain too much mercury, antibiotics, …)

    and even more if you replace it with nuts and the same if you replace it with cereals.

    But I think this figures are not clear anyway. Fish is not fish. Tuna is very popular, but unfortunately one of the worst choices. Wild salmon would be a better choice, but not everyone can afford it (or like it).

    Same is ofc true for the other categories. Most vegetarians I know replace the meat with a mix of legumes and cereals (e.g. rice&beans) to get all essential proteins.

    When you replace red meat, I guess it makes sense to take sth. with proteins: poultry, legumes, nuts

  4. Sebastian Bodden  March 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I am from germany. The most popular vegetables here are potatoes. Afaik all recent studies suggest that potatoes are lagging most of the health benefits other vegetables have. French fries are quite popular everywhere. I once read that in the US they are allowed to advertise “frozen french fries” as “fresh vegetables”.

    The devil may be in the details I guess :)

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  7. Dr, Motley  March 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Find out the truth. This isn’t correct.

    Vegetarianism: What the Science Tells Us

    The table below presents the annual death rates for vegetarians and nonvegetarians which … As can be seen, the “marked” difference between vegetarian and…

    The Ethics of Eating Meat: A Radical View by Charles Eisenstein
    Although they argue strenuously for the health benefits of a vegetarian diet … Whereas one-sixth an acre of land can feed a vegetarian for a year…

    Myths and Truths About Vegetarianism

    Additionally, claims are made in vegan and vegetarian literature that B12 is present in…. Some recent studies on vegan and vegetarian diets, however…

    Myths and Truths About Nutrition
    Truth: The annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian men is slightly more than that of … Myth: A vegetarian diet will protect you against atherosclerosis.

    Myths and Truths About Beef
    Recently a vegetarian group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals placed billboard ads warning men not to eat beef because it causes impotence! …

    Vegetarianism: What the Science Tells Us
    By Sally Fallon and Mary G Enig, PhD


    The Myths of Vegetarianism
    by Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP
    Originally published in the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, July 2000. Revised January 2002.


    The Naive Vegetarian by Barry Groves, PhD

    and lastly:

    Twenty-Two Reasons Not to Go Vegetarian
    Written by Sally Fallon Morell

  8. Dr, Motley  March 21, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    There has never been a culture that has thrived as vegetarians.. The healthiest cultures have always been meat eaters.

    Depending mostly on climate conditions, the ratio of plant to animal intake varies. In colder and more severe environments, the meat in-take is usually much larger. This primarily occurs for two reasons:

    1) Plants won’t grow. You can’t eat what isn’t there. (Ask an Eskimo. He’ll know.)

    2) The concentration of nutrients is much higher in meat than in vegetables. This means you can harvest less tonnage of food. It also means the culture can have less of an impact on the environment (then if they cut their meat in-take and became more herbivore-like.)

    Because of “survival of the fittest,” there has never been a culture of herbivores. A human that tries to become a herbivore will cause physical damage to their neurological (and other) systems. A culture of herbivores would eventually wipe itself out.

    The easier the catch, the more an omnivorous culture will thrive. Fishing tribes are often good examples of what plentiful meat can do to better society.

    •32 teeth (16 on each jaw)
    •20 of these are carnivore type
    •These 20 are incisors, canines, and bicuspids for biting off pieces of animal flesh and crushing small, hallow bones and cartilage
    12 of our 32 teeth are broad and flat for grinding.

    Interestingly in many cases, four of these 12 molars will not be able to fit in the spaces of jaws designated for posterior teeth.
    Human Evolutionary patterns may be showing us that only eight molars are sufficient for grinding the plant portions of the natural diet.

    Jaw motion

    •A carnivore’s jaw opens straight up and down like a pure hinge. There are no circular, side to side motions as in “chewing cud”. The jaw opens wide in relation to the skull.
    •A herbivore’s jaw works in a circular motion and the jaw open’s short in relation to its size.
    •The human jaw joint does both the Sliding movement and the pure hinge. The TMJ is labeled medically as a sliding/hinge joint

    Full size mammals like cows and deer are herbivores are ruminants.

    •Ruminants have complex stomachs made up of three to four chambers.
    •Ruminants must periodically regurgitate plant matter back up into the mouth for additional chewing.
    •Human don’t have multiple stomachs or have special enzymes and bacteria for digesting plant matter.

    In the stomach, hydrochloric acid and various pepsinogens are produced by cells in the lining and act together to form pepsin. The purpose of pepsin is to digest COLLEGEN, which is the substance that makes up the connective tissue of meats.

    Also produced in the stomach are tributyrase, which digest butterfat, and gelatinase, which liquefies the protoglycans of meat.

    Collagen, butterfat, and meat proteoglycans are not in plants, yet humans have special enzymes for digesting them.

    Various enzymes digest triglycerides, which are primarily fats from animals.

    This process involves the emulsification of fats by bile acids and lecithin.

    Finally, humans have an enzyme called cholesterol ester hydrolase for the sole purpose of digesting CHOLESTEROL. Remember that cholesterol isn’t found in plants.

    If humans were designed to use plants as a food source, why are there so many enzymes for digesting the parts of animals in the normal human digestive system?

    If humans were designed to primarily eat plants, why doesn’t our digestive system have an enzyme for digesting cellulose, the primary building block of vegetation.

    Realize that our digestion works more like a tigers that a cow. One stomach, lots of acid, stomach empties fast.

    Unlike a Herbivore which has little to no acid, multiple stomach which never empty, and need to fermentate due to the lack of acid.
    Comparing the human and chimpanzee intestinal tracts – indeed, they are somewhat proportional in length, but that’s where the similarity ends. They differ widely in structure, function and bacterial environment.

    In humans, the small intestine is where nearly all digestion of food and absorption of nutrients takes place, and takes up 56 – 67% of gut volume. Whereas in chimps the small intestine is only 23 – 38% of total gut volume. For chimps, the large intestine or colon is where much of the breakdown of food and absorption takes place. Since the diet of chimps is primarily high-fiber fruits and vegetative matter .. the small intestine isn’t able to break down the fiber to yield energy or nutrients. But, the large intestine of chimps is highly specialized .. and is proportionally longer than humans, and also more convolutions, creating more internal surface area for absorption. The bacterial flora is also different. The chief function of this is fermentation … the chimp’s large intestine is designed for bacterial fermentation of fiber, to break it down into simple saccharide sugars that are absorbed and used for energy. Humans have some slight fermentative capability, but it’s not efficient and in general, fiber is undigested and passed out of the body.

    Also read:

    Vegetarian Diet Deficiencies Are a Proven Fact.
    Vegetarianism: Another View by H. Leon Abrams, Jr.
    Bone Analysis Suggests Neolithic People Preferred Meat
    7,700-Year-Old Bones Prove Early Humans were Highly Carnivorous
    Eskimos Prove An All Meat Diet Provides Excellent Health
    Australian Aborigines by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD

  9. Sebastian Bodden  March 22, 2012 at 8:35 am

    The fact that humans have eaten meat in the past and the fact that our body is also adjusted to eat meat proves only that we have eaten meat in the past and that we are adjusted to eat meat.

    To conclude any health claims, either that eating meat is better or worse than being a vegetarian is not a logical conclusion.

    I agree that being vegetarian is not necessarily healthier than eating meat but unfortunately most people eat to much meat and meat of low quality.

    I followed your links. After your interesting article I was quite disappointed about the low quality of the links. It seems you got them all from – which is ofc not a good source for scientific articles. To support your argument you would need to show us some recent studies which reach scientific standard. But afaik 90%+ of modern studies suggest that eating too much meat and esp. red meat correlates with health problems. And I haven’t heared from a single recent study that claims that vegetarian diet leads to any kind of health deficit.

    To take a more scientific approach I would recommend reading:
    1. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter Willett
    The author is not a vegetarian

    2. The Oxford Vegetarian Study: an overview.

  10. Dev  March 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I agree with what Dr, Motley said.
    Also I would like to add that generally speaking vegetarians lead a healthier lifestyle (exercise, don’t smoke etc) than meat eaters. In fact a lot of vegetarians become vegetarians so they can reduce their BMI, cholesterol etc. This shows that health plays a big part in their lifestyle and that they probably spend more time on improving their health than the average meat eater.

    • Squire  May 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Please anyone who is reading this post check out the movies Forks over knives, food inc, food matters and fat sick and nearly dead you said it yourself Dev quote ” In fact a lot of vegetarians become vegetarians so they can reduce their BMI, cholesterol etc.” If we are truly talking about our health here and not whether our bodies were made to eat meat or not then hands down there’s ample evidence to show that being a vegetarian or vegan is the healthier choice, I’m a living testimony of that, people need to be ready to look at the facts and not just ignore them because they like something or justify doing something bad for them (in this case meat and the foods people put in their bodies). People like meat, I like meat, but the facts are that too much meat is bad for you and life is about choices, you have a choice what to put in your mouth a cheeseburger or a salad, and you, your family and loved ones are the ones who will have to live with those choices.
      While I am a vegan now that likes meat, I realize what it along with unhealthy habbits were doing to me, I was a borderline diabetic, had high euric acid levels, felt like crap all the time drank a case of soda a day and on top of that smoked and rarely ever ate vegetables. When my family decided to go this route I was a little skeptical but decided to give it a try, we have been doing it now 4 months and we all feel a lot better for it.
      I can truly say my hesitance and arguements of why not to become vegan or try something this drastic was fear, fear that I wouldn’t be able to find something good to eat, feeling like I’d be missing something, or that it would feel wierd at a family gathering or restraunt and there are a lot of social aspects to eating and cooking meat. Some of the same reasons a smoker justifies smoking (i’ve been there). 4 months into being a vegan I am glad we made the choice and know we are healthier and have the potential to live longer healthier lives for it.
      To me it seems pretty cut and dry, do you want to do what you want to do, or do you want to do what is healthier for you, it’s a hard choice but in the end I don’t feel like I’m missing anything and am glad we made the choice to do what we did. I have high hopes that others will do the same.

  11. Sebastian Bodden  March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Other influences like smoking, sports etc. are considered in most studies so that they don’t distort the results.

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