Vegetarians are healthier than meat lovers — regardless of how much they drink or smoke

GLASGOW, Scotland — Do vegetarians have a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to unhealthy habits? A new study finds vegetarians aren’t just healthier than meat-eaters, the impact of their diet holds up regardless of how much they drink and smoke.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow examined more than 175,000 British adults during their study. Those results reveal people sticking to a plant-based diet appear to be healthier than meat-lovers. Moreover, they came out ahead regardless of age, weight, smoking habits, and their levels of alcohol consumption.

The Scottish team looked at biomarkers that can have good and bad health effects; promoting or preventing cancer, heart and age-related diseases, as well as other chronic conditions. Previous studies have also looked at these markers to assess the effectiveness of certain diets on human health.

Glasgow researchers analyzed blood and urine samples from 177,723 healthy participants, between 37 and 73 years-old, reporting no major changes in their diet over the last five years. The team categorized the group as either vegetarians (not eating red meat, poultry, or fish) or meat-eaters, according to each person’s self-reported diet. The researchers examined each diet’s association with 19 biomarkers related to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, liver, bone and joint health, and kidney function.

Going green has a big impact on cholesterol

Even after accounting for potentially influential factors including age, sex, education, ethnicity, obesity, smoking, and alcohol intake, the analysis reveals, in comparison to meat-eaters, vegetarians had “significantly lower” levels of 13 key biomarkers. Those include total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein “bad” cholesterol, and a hormone that encourages the growth and proliferation of cancer cells.

Vegetarians also had lower levels of beneficial biomarkers including “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

“Our findings offer real food for thought,” says study leader Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales in a media release. “As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fiber, and other potentially beneficial compounds.”

“These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease,” Celis-Morales concludes.

Researchers presented their findings at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO), held online this year.

SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.