Ask Surly Amy: Vegan, Vegetarian and Pescatarian Diets
Dear Surly Amy,
I’m trying to find non-biased sources on health, longevity, etc, related to Vegan/Vegetarian/Pescetarian diets, but am having an incredibly hard time finding any article online that isn’t teeming with bias (Vegan websites are super biased, btw). What are the health facts, pure and simple?
Unfortunately the health facts aren’t pure and simple.
Different people require different types of diets due to allergies, varying metabolisms and health conditions and there is no sure one way to eat for everyone. Vegan diets can be very helpful for people with heart disease or for people who are trying to lower cholesterol but even that statement has a lot of variables in it.
In general, eating a diet with fresh veggies, grains, fish and a minimal amount of meat along with regular exercise is considered relatively sound advice. But again, even that statement varies in it’s specific implications from person to person. Is the person suffering from illness? Is the person obese or underweight? Do they smoke or drink and are they exercising? These and other issues all come into play when choosing what we should or should not eat and estimating what effect that diet will have on health and lifespan.
Personally, I try to maintain a pescetarian diet that sometimes leans toward vegan. My choices are based on weight and cholesterol control, family history of illnesses and the fact that I feel eating animals is morally wrong. But I am no angel and I do slip up now and then, especially when traveling and I also can’t honestly justify why eating fish would be ok but eating a cow isn’t in my mind. These choices I make are mainly my personal decisions that factor into a larger personal health regimen.
As for longevity, anyone who tells you that one diet is objectively better for all people does not have the data to back up that claim. Unless of course these people are telling you to eat butter and sugar all day, then we can find data to prove why that would be very bad. But the general themes of “recommended diets” are usually not that far off the mark.
I asked my friend, a weight-loss specialist and surgeon, Dr Terry Simpson if vegans do indeed live longer. His full response has been posted on his website. He goes over some of the recent and popular studies that people cite when referencing health benefits or dangers of specific diets and then mentions a meta study from 1999:
In 1999 a metastudy combined data from five western countries and reported mortality ratios. This broad study showed fish eaters (pescetarians) had a the lowest ratio of 0.82, followed by vegetarians at 0.84. Occasional meat eaters were at 0.84 and vegans as well as regular meat eaters had a ratio of 1.0. (The lower the number the longer the lifespan.) – American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol 70 (3): 516S-524S – September 1999
He goes on to conclude:
While there are thousands of internet sites concluding that vegans live much longer- there is no study that agrees with that conclusion. What conclusion can you come to? Probably that eating fish is a good thing- eating too much processed food may not be a good thing. Best to pick great parents, don’t overeat, and a bit of red wine and chocolate are not bad things.
In other words, your genes probably play a bigger role in determining how long you will live than what you had for lunch does. My advice? Go to see an MD, get a physical done and then ask your doctor what diet is best for you at this particular point in your life.
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