October is Vegetarian Awareness month, and just like with any awareness month I find all sorts of articles on that topic popping up in my various news feed designed to catch my eye. One article that caught my eye was this one: Eat Vegetarian, Live Longer. Some people see the fountain of youth; I however, am skeptical, and as an educator, I see this as a great opportunity to talk again about reading articles critically as outlined by our friends at Double X Science.
1. Ignore the headline.
"Ok, you've got my attention, now I'm going to ignore you." Check.
2. Basis of of the article?
It's original research, but since the study hasn't been concluded yet, it hasn't gone through peer review, nor have the authors drawn up any conclusions. Observations only at this point, so we can say "Huh, that's interesting, we can keep the study going, but we can't start making changes just yet."
3. What words does the article use?
Words like risk and association appear to be the favorite here. Once again, correlation does not equal causation.
4. Original source of information?
Published as preliminary findings, not a completed study. Once again, this research still has not had time to go throught the peer review process.
5. Remember that everyone involved in what you're reading has some return in what they are seeking.
Loma Linda University is associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church which has advocated for a vegetarian diet for years; of course they want to find reasons to continue to advocate for this. At least they are making an attempt to study this from a scientific perspective.
6. Ask a scientist for clarification, we love to talk about science!
Problem number one, they are using the infamous food and lifestyle questionnaires, which, as I have mentioned several times before, are very unreliable. Second, the Adventists also advocate for lots of other healthy behaviors such as not smoking, etc, which may or may not play a bigger role than the diet, or might cause a synergistic effect; we just don't know. Third, our longevity seems to rely heavily on our genetics (Link), and since people tend to choose the religion of their parents, there may also be a genetic component at play here. Fourth, I would also like to know what other parts of the diet they are comparing other than the meat vs. non-meat. Is that the only difference, or are the meat eaters also eating a lot of sugar, not eating as many vegetables, not exercising as much, eating too large portions in general, less motivated to take care of their health, and so on.
Take Home Message--Doesn't look like we've found the fountain of youth just yet. If you are a healthy Seventh Day Adventist who happens to be a vegetarian, there doesn't appear to be a reason to stop. If you are not Seventh Day Adventist, and/or you stop eating meat but don't change any other health behaviors, and/or you don't have the right genetics, changing your diet likely won't help you live longer. Could we all benefit from the not smoking, eating more plants, exercising, moderating our portions, most likely.