We know that vegetarians tend to be slimmer, but there’s athat veg diets may somehow be deficient in nutrients. So how’s this for a simple study: researchers analyzed the diets of 13,000 people and compared the nutrient intake of those eating meat to those eating meat-free.
They found that those eating vegetarian were getting higher intakes of nearly every nutrient: more fiber, more vitamin A, more vitamin C, more vitamin E, more of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, & folate), more calcium, more magnesium, more iron, and more potassium. At the same time, they were also eating less of the harmful stuff like saturated fat and cholesterol. And yes, they got enough protein.
And some of those nutrients are the ones Americans really struggle to get enough of—like fiber, vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium—and those eating vegetarian got more of all of them. Even so, just because they did better than the standard American diet isn’t saying much—they still didn’t get as much as they should have. Those eating vegetarian ate significantly more dark green leafy vegetables, but that comes out to just two more teaspoons of greens than meat eaters on average every day.
In terms of weight management, the vegetarians were consuming, on average, 363 fewer calories every day. That’s what people do when they go on a diet and restrict their food intake—but it seemed like that is what vegetarians ate normally.
How sustainable are more plant-based diets long term? They are among the only type of diets that have been shown to be sustainable long-term, perhaps because not only do people lose weight but they often feel so much better.
And there’s no calorie counting or portion control. In fact, vegetarians may burn more calories in their sleep. Those eating more plant-based diets appear to have an 11% higher resting metabolic rate. Both vegetarians and vegans seem to have a naturally revved up metabolism compared to those eating meat.
Having said that, the vegetarians in the first study mentioned, were also eating eggs and dairy, so while they were significantly slimmer than those eating meat, they were still, on average, overweight. As profiled in my video, Thousands of Vegans Studied, the only dietary pattern associated on average with an ideal body weight was a strictly plant-based one. At least this study helps to dispel the myth that meat-free diets are somehow nutrient-deficient. In fact, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association asked, “What could be more nutrient dense than a vegetarian diet?”
Anyone can lose weight in the short term on nearly any diet, but diets don’t seem to work in the long-term. We don’t need a diet; we need a new way of eating that we can comfortably stick with throughout our lives. If that’s the case, then we better choose to eat in a way that will most healthfully sustain us. That’s why a plant-based diet may offer the best of both worlds. It’s the only diet shown to reverse heart disease–our number one killer–in the majority of patients, as described in my video: One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic.
By: Michael Greger