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Study shows vegetarian diet risk

Headshot of Greg Johnson, Produce Blue Book's Director of media development.

A major British study shows a varied diet high on fruits and vegetables, but not necessarily a vegetarian one, is the healthiest diet.

The most interesting finding in the study was that while vegetarian diets led to a lower risk of heart disease, they led to a higher risk of stroke compared to those with a variety of meat.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal and looked at 48,000 people in the United Kingdom for up to 18 years. It recruited 16,000 people who called themselves vegan or vegetarian, while 24,000 were omnivores and 7,500 called themselves pescatarian (eating only fish as meat).

The researchers said the study can’t prove whether the diet or some other lifestyle factor led to the results.

Studies consistently show that eating more plants lowers one’s heart disease risk, which is more good news for the produce industry, after a Produce for Better Health study this summer showed fruits and vegetables improve quality of life and life expectancy.

The vegetarian angle also helps solidify the industry’s reluctance to associate with that diet and lifestyle.

People chose to eat a vegetarian diet for health, environmental or political reasons, but here’s a study that shows it’s not necessarily healthier, despite what vegetarians and their supporters may tell us.

Many people are surprised how few vegetarians there are considering how much news they make (which reminds me of a favorite joke: How do you know when someone is vegetarian? They tell you.).

This study was done in the UK, but it has far more vegetarians in it (one-third) than are in the UK or U.S. population. According to the UK-based Vegan Society, 3.5 percent of people there are vegetarian, while 0.5 percent are vegan.

A Gallup poll last year found 5 percent of Americans say they are vegetarian, while 3 percent says they’re vegan. Both numbers have been consistent for 20 years.

Consumers can be encouraged to Have a Plant more often, and no discussion of whether it’s alongside meat has to take place.

Either is fine and neither is clearly healthier.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services and an omnivore