A marker we can’t refuse
The findings that vegetarians have healthier levels of disease markers than meat-eaters offer real food for thought.
Dr Carlos Celis-Morales from the University of Glasgow, UK, who led an observational study of British adults, said people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds. The research found these nutritional differences may help explain why “vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.”
The observational study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), also found that vegetarians had overall lower levels of cholesterol. According to the researchers, this applied to people of any age and weight, and was unaffected by tobacco and alcohol consumption.
Biomarkers can indicate good or poor health effects, cardiovascular and age-related disease, and other chronic conditions. They’re also widely used to assess the effects of diet on health.
The University of Glasgow did a cross-sectional study analysing data from 177,723 healthy participants. They were between 37 and 73 years old and from the UK Biobank database and research resource. They reported no major changes in their diets over the last five years.
Dr Carlos Celis-Morales did say that researchers don’t fully understand the health benefits of being a vegetarian compared to a meat eater, however, “to address this research question, we have used one of the most extensive studies available and compared a large panel of health-related biomarkers in people who self-reported as vegetarian or meat eater at least during the last 5 years.”
Vegetarian participants did have higher levels of triglycerides and the protein cystatin C, which may indicate decreased kidney function.
Despite the findings, Celis-Morales said he doesn’t expect people to completely give up meat immediately.
As Celis-Morales said, it is not easy to just stop eating meat when you have been doing this for a long time. Is it more feasible to reduce intake and replace it with other healthy options such as oily fish, which is a source of proteins and omega-3 and other nutrients? Probably.
The challenge is many people are accustomed to familiar foods and drinks – for various reasons. Meat is a staple in many diets. Chicken is something eaten daily for some, ham sandwiches are popular in school lunches, and beef is a favourite in plenty of meals. This is what people know, and they never even entertain the idea of being a vegetarian.
Experts say people don’t have to become vegetarian to be healthy. Instead, eating meat in moderation is the way to go.
It will be very hard for some to reduce the amount of meat they eat. For others, there will be some inner thinking on their meat consumption.
I’m not ready to give up meat, but meatless products are a part of my life now. It’s no wonder about the vegetarian foods on shelves and those in the hospitality sector are more enticing than they’ve ever been.
It’s a nice compromise for now, and it makes me happy that my food knowledge is growing.
- Rodney Jack, editor, Food & Drink Technology.
Keep in touch via email: [email protected]
Twitter: @foodanddrinktec or LinkedIn: Food & Drink Technology magazine.