Is there a link between vegetarianism and aging? Fun Fact: About one-third of India’s population is vegetarian. One of the big reasons people go vegan or vegetarian is based on the notion that they’re healthier diets. For example, the average American consumes 2x more protein than is recommended by health experts. Several studies show that there’s a link between high intake of animal protein and various health conditions. However, that doesn’t really mean that avoiding all beef, chicken, and fish will help you live longer. As always, it’s critical to take a closer look at the situation to figure out if eating only plant-based foods and possibly eggs/dairy is actually healthier.
The main issue is really about the nutritional value of people’s diets instead of whether they’re eating animal-sourced food or not. For example, in recent years several plant-based burgers like the Impossible Whopper have hit the market. While these options are meatless there’s a lot of processing involved to make them. This is one of the various pitfalls you can experience if you’re on a vegetarian/vegan diet. Other issues include getting all the nutrients you need from just plant-based foods. Vitamin B12 and iron are easier to get from meat.
Do Vegetarians/Vegans Live Longer?
in short, the answer is: on average, yes. National Geographic’s recent Blue Zones program researched the world’s regions where people have the longest life expectancy. There were some interesting takeaways about the diets in those regions.
What did the researchers find out? There were some exceptions but most of the regions weren’t vegetarian/vegan per se. They were generally flexitarian. The regions usually consumed meat but it was a small percentage of the diets in:
- Costa Rica
- USA (California)
Another interesting trend was white meat like fish and chicken were usually consumed in higher amounts than red meats like pork and beef.
So, it’s important to note that eating more plant-based food can certainly help to boost your health. That said, meat can be healthy. It’s mostly about the kind and amount you eat. For example, in recent years many people have been focusing on grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, and wild-caught fish.
Nothing in life is 100%. Simply being a vegetarian/vegan doesn’t mean you’ll have a 100% chance of avoiding certain serious diseases. It also doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely live a long life. That said, many studies show that on average vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters.
A 2013 study that researched the life expectancy of vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists found that their lifespan was 6-9 years higher than meat-eaters. However, what wasn’t clear from the study is whether not eating meat was the cause of the longer lifespan.
Here’s why. Vegetarians tend to consume less alcohol, exercise, and gear married. These are all factors that studies show can also increase lifespans. So, it’s not 100% clear if simply ditching bacon double cheeseburgers will help you live longer.
A big debate topic in recent years has been red meat. One pro-red meat argument is the problem is the grains, hormones, and antibiotics given to the cows. It’s been argued that this is the reason red meat has become “unhealthy” in recent decades.
Vegetarianism and Aging: Possible Pitfalls
Vegetarian/Vegan diets can be quite healthy. However, there are a few possible pitfalls that might take place based on the nature of the diets. Here are some of the main ones:
1. Omega 3s/6s
In general, omega-3s are healthier than omega 6s. Both have nutritional value but many health experts argue it’s important to have a high omega-3/omega-6 ratio. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are fatty fish and eggs. While eggs are allowed on vegetarian diets they’re not allowed on vegan diets.
One possible problem while on a vegan diet is consuming more Omega-6s through vegetable oils, soy, etc. Soybeans are one of the main protein sources for vegetarians since they’re a complete protein. In other words, they have all the essential amino acids (EAAs) humans must get from foods/supplements.
The bottom line is while you can get omega-3s from plant-based sources it will be tougher to some enough through plant-based foods when fish, seafood, and eggs are off the menu.
This is a big issue related to anti-aging. The reason is as we get older our bodies to produce less collagen. There are various animal and plant-based sources of protein. Some of the best ones from animal sources include meat and bone broth.
You can also get collagen from plant-based sources. However, the main difference is the body can’t use it. So, if you’re dealing with age-related lower collagen then it’s an issue because you can only get usable collagen from foods you can’t eat on vegetarian diets!
If you’re vegan/vegetarian it’s possible to go low-carb. However, it’s tougher than non-vegetarians. Meat, eggs, and dairy are all low-carb. Meanwhile, many plant-based foods like refined grains, starchy veggies, and many fruits are all high-carb.
Aging Foods to Avoid on Vegetarian Diets
1. Plant-based “Meat”
This has been trending in recent years. The big problem is there tends to be a lot of processing to make the products. they have some nutritional value but they’re not as healthy as eating the main ingredients in their whole food form.
2. Artificial Additives
This is another type of ingredient to avoid if you’re on any diet. These ingredients are highly-processed and health experts don’t know all the long-term health effects they could cause. It’s better to be on the safe side and minimize these ingredients from your diet.
3. Vegetable Oils
These might sound healthy but they tend to be higher in omega-6s than omega-3s. Some better options include olive and coconut oils. They’re high in healthy fats and omega-3s. This can provide several health benefits for your heart, brain, hair, skin, etc. Good omega-3 sources include fatty fish.
This is vegetarian but also one of the unhealthiest foods you can eat. Some healthier options include raw honey, maple syrup, and monk fruit/stevia extracts for low-carb dieters. However, all kinds of sugar including raw, brown, and white have nutritional value.
Sugar can trigger many health conditions. It boosts your blood sugar levels, which over time can result in insulin resistance and diabetes. Another potential problem is that it can also boost inflammation, which is linked to many serious diseases.
5. Refined grains
Grain-free diets have been trending in recent years but whole grains are actually quite healthy. They’re not low-carb and some like wheat and barley contain gluten. That might be a problem if you have a gluten/wheat allergy.
However, the main issue is whether you consume whole or refined grains. The latter has been processed and contains fewer nutrients than whole grains. These are both situations you’ll likely want to avoid in terms of vegetarianism and aging.