The Latest Food Thing that Will Supposedly Kill You: Being a Vegetarian

In the competition for supposedly scientific headlines that are so, so wrong, we have some doozies this week:

“Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns”

“Vegetarian diet 'raises risk of heart disease and cancer'”

“Being a long term vegetarian changes your DNA and increases your risk of cancer”

If you’ve got a raised eyebrow already, you’re on the right track. Here’s why this vegetarian-hate doesn’t make any sense:

 

random-science-health-newsIt took a convoluted and unscientific process to get to this crazy conclusion.

Your body uses genes to process different kinds of food. So, what they’re claiming here is that someone with a variation in a certain gene would process some foods differently than the rest of us, specifically fats.

They assert that this difficulty processing certain fats would lead to an increase in arachidonic acid, which is tied to health problems. But they never actually tested levels to see if they would truly be higher in vegetarians.

They also didn’t look at what kinds of dietary fat anyone was consuming, let alone test it. Perhaps you’re wondering ‘wait, when did vegetarians come in to this?’ They reviewed a database for and found one population in India in which vegetarians were more likely to have this variation in their gene.  

If you’re not following, don’t feel bad. It’s an incredibly convoluted (and not scientifically sound) path to get to ‘being a vegetarian causes cancer.’ This study is a prime example of not only how study can get inappropriately reported and overblown, but also how study findings can be then be applied to mildly tangential health effects.

 

The shade they’re throwing at vegetable oil doesn’t make sense.

Several articles are claiming that vegetable oils are being turned into ‘dangerous arachidonic acid,’ which is both unfounded and in direct opposition to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines recommend replacing foods high in saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, like vegetable oils.

This recommendation is backed by strong evidence from randomized-control trials (the scientific gold standard!) that show replacing saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), significantly reduces total and LDL blood cholesterol levels. 

Vegetable oils like canola oil are high in PUFAs and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and they’re low in saturated fat (here's the deal with all those fat types). It’s really worthwhile to look at variety of oils that can deliver a variety of good stuff like MUFAs and PUFAs including both Omega 3s and Omega 6s.

This is a major distraction from what you really need to eat healthy.

dietary-guidelines-2015

When trying to eat healthy, it all comes down to your overall “eating style.” Vegetarian or not, experts recommend that you focus on maintaining a healthy eating style, rather than eliminating any specific types of food from your diet.

In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has outlined a healthy eating pattern specifically for vegetarians. That’s right- there are healthy eating patterns for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Neither one merits any sort of crisis intervention! The Dietary Guidelines show how vegetarians can meet nutrient and calorie needs through a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, protein foods, and oils.

Recent news reports are no reason to switch away from a healthy vegetarian eating style, especially if it meets your nutrient needs and fits your lifestyle. Instead, focus on getting the right mix of foods and maintaining that healthy eating pattern over time. This, plus regular physical activity, is shown to be the best way to prevent or manage chronic disease. 

 

This blog also includes contributions from Dr. Megan Meyer, PhD; Sarah Romotsky, RD; and Liz Caselli-Mechael.

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