Three years ago I wrote an apology for not being a vegetarian or a vegan. There are three reasons given for favoring such a diet. One is moral. To eat meat is to use another sentient being for one’s own ends and to be part of the cruel factory farming system that exists in the US. The second is ecological, since using plants to feed animals results in roughly 90% of the energy used to produce plants being lost in the conversion to animal protein, which is a waste of resources. The third is for health since vegetables and fruits reportedly led to better health outcomes.
I felt that the moral argument was the strongest one and was irrefutable, with the ecological one coming in a strong second. As for health, I was not as convinced and felt that as long as one ate a balanced diet in moderation, the health outcomes may well be wash.
I came across this news report that questioned the health advantages of a vegetarian diet. It appeared on April 1, so I thought it may be a joke (I hate April Fools jokes with a passion) but there actually is such a paper that you can read here, the abstract of which says:
Our results revealed that a vegetarian diet is related to a lower BMI and less frequent alcohol consumption. Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life. Therefore, public health programs are needed in order to reduce the health risk due to nutritional factors.
The authors of the study caution against rushing to judgment because they have not shown a causal connection. These studies that correlate health outcomes to diet and lifestyle are notoriously difficult to do and prone to reversals so one should not take this as the definitive word. As the paper’s authors say, the causal relationship might be reversed in that people in poor health might be adopting a vegetarian diet to try improve it.
This might indicate that the vegetarians in our study consume this form of diet as a consequence of their disorders, since a vegetarian diet is often recommended as a method to manage weight and health.
But if it is true that being a vegetarian causes poorer health, that raises an interesting question of why a diet of vegetables and fruits do not have better health outcomes across the board, a surprising result to be sure and was what made me erroneously suspect that the news report might be a hoax.