On the Internet, being vegetarian can earn you a lot of vicious criticism for daring to be different, but it turns out that, at least in some situations, vegetarians may have the last laugh when it comes to health. A new study shows that people needing to lose weight may be better off going on a vegetarian diet, as it not only helped them lose weight more effectively but also improved their metabolism.
For this study, 74 people with type II diabetes were randomly assigned to either a conventional anti-diabetic diet or a vegetarian one, high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, legumes and seeds. The only animal food allowed was one portion of low-fat yoghurt a day. Although both diets had the same caloric restriction, the vegetarian diet was twice as effective in reducing body weight, resulting in an average of 6.2kg of weight lost compared to 3.2kg. It wasn't simply weight loss, either. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the doctors performing this study then looked at how fat tissue was stored in the patients' thighs. Fat tissue in our limbs can be stored under the skin (subcutaneous), on the surface of muscles (subfascial) and inside the muscles (intramuscular). Both diets resulted in a similar reduction in subcutaneous fat. However, only the vegetarian diet reduced subfascial fat, and was far more effective in reducing the amount of intramuscular fat. Why is this important? Subfascial fat is associated with insulin resistance in type II diabetes, so reducing it could benefit sugar metabolism in ways that "regular" weight loss cannot. Reducing intramuscular fat could also help to improve muscle strength and mobility, which is particularly important in older people.
But is a vegetarian diet beneficial for everyone all the time, especially in the case of antiaging and longevity? There is conflicting evidence. Research does show that being vegetarian does significantly reduce heart attack risk in under-65s by 45%, but this drops to only an 8% reduction after 80. Some studies do not show that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, but two studies on people who rarely eat meat found an average life extension of 3.6 years. Another on Seventh-Day Adventists found a lifespan increase of about 7 years in men and 4 years in women. However, other research has found that vegetarians are very low in a nutrient called carnosine. Carnosine plays a key role in reducing the harmful glycation reactions which are known to be responsible for so much of aging. But how to the animals that give us carnosine through food obtain it themselves? Carnosine is made of the amino acids beta-alanine and L-histidine, and research on older adults (55-92) does show that beta-alanine supplementation improves physical working capacity. Additionally, sprint training increases the level of carnosine in muscle, because just like herbivorous animals, we make carnosine ourselves. In conclusion, yes, vegetarian diets are best for at least some people, and there are ways to make up for what you miss out on with a meat-free diet. But we are all individuals, so everyone has different needs, and to book an appointment with me for an individualized treatment plan, click here.