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Are Vegetarians Less Likely to be Overweight?



After following my columns on Nutrition and Weight Loss Myths for the last four weeks, one of my patients asked about being vegetarian. They questioned if there was really scientific evidence of better health among those who don't eat meat.

The answer is yes. One excellent example was published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;81:1267-1274). Information about diet that had been collected in Sweden as part of a large mammogram study was evaluated. The participants had answered questionnaires about their diet and asked to classify whether they were omnivores (consumed all food), semivegetarians (eating some animal protein), lactovegetarians (consuming dairy and/or eggs) or vegan (strictly vegetarian).

There were a small percentage of the women studied that considered themselves to be in one of the vegetarian categories (2% of the over 54,000 women analyzed). The data showed a significantly lower Body Mass Index (BMI) in these groups.

The difficulty with studies such as this one is that simply identifying that the vegetarians have a lower BMI doesn't show that eating that way is the cause. The researchers do acknowledge this. The best research will come when large studies are done that compare people over the long term while they eat a vegetarian diet or one that contains meat.

What this means for you

There is a lot of research showing that eating less meat or eating vegetarian can be very good for you, but we don't yet know exactly how. Vegetarian recipes are not automatically healthier, however, as they can be just as full of fat, salt, and cholesterol as any other food. Reviewing the nutrition facts carefully is key.

Try a vegetarian recipe:
Chile Rellenos | Vegetarian Lasagna | Broccoli Cheese Soup | Eggplant Parmesan

First posted: May 24, 2006