Today was the second day of the healthy lifestyles conference organized by Arizona State University and I was very much impressed by the vegetarian speaker! Actually, I know the professor, Carol Johnston, since I am involved with her vegetarian study..but this is the first time I heard her talk on the subject.
I was particularly impressed with the way she discussed limitations of vegetarian studies that many people do not consider (and many vegetarian researchers do not necessarily point out)-
- The studies usually have many confounders (generally vegetarians studied tend to be more lean, educated, physically active, supplementation, no smoking/drinking, etc).. So a lot of their characteristics have nothing to do with meat avoidance but an overall healthy lifestyle
- Studies showing fantastically superior health of vegetarians do so due to comparing vegetarians to national averages (which are not so great). When vegetarians are compared to meat-eating groups who also follow healthy lifestyles, the difference in health is not as prominent.
Some important things to consider with vegetarian and vegan diets is B12 and Vitamin D (also zinc, calcium), since these populations do tend to be low in these vitamins. Dr. Johnston herself raised her two kids omnivorous, since she has concerned with a number of studies showing dangers of low B12 in small children. Indeed, during pregnancy one’s B12 decreases as well.
Some of the well-accepted benefits of vegetarian lifestyle are lower risk for colon and breast cancer.
Vegetarian for all??
I found it fascinating that once an audience member asked a question about recommending vegetarian diets to lower SES communities, Dr. J answered that she understands we have evolved on meat and we were meant to eat it, but in this day and age with disease, environmental issues, and low animal product quality (+ horrible animal treatment) vegetarian diets in her view are a better solution (but one might need to be a grown person to adopt it). She would not recommend going vegetarian in the 3rd world countries.
I loved the last comment, because my observation has been that people try very hard to prove our ancestral diet was vegan. It seems to be not so, but I don’t believe this fact is a reason against vegetarianism. I think Dr. Johnston’s view is very rational- you do not have to sell the vegetarian diet as the most original and natural for our species (it is not as evidenced by deficiencies due to animal product avoidance), you simply need to concentrate on the fact that this diet might be much better for you personal health, for the environment, and the animals.
P.S. Dr. Johnston also has fascinating research on vinegar and it’s beneficial effect on type 2 diabetes management and weight loss (just google Carol Johnston vinegar diabetes)