Sometimes, I can’t believe the sheer stupidity of folks.
Too many people believe all the hype of the latest fad diets and dive in without doing the proper research or making a plan to maintain their health.
The latest diets to make me shake my head… vegetarianism and veganism.
My problem is that folks on these extreme diets (and, indeed, on any extreme diet) often have difficulty getting all of the nutrients they need.
It’s a similar, though less dangerous, example of the teenager we wrote about last Friday. That U.K. teen suffered permanent hearing and vision loss because he only ate chips, fries, white bread, and small amounts of ham and sausage.
He suffered those horrible medical issues because his diet lacked many key nutrients needed to keep him alive and functioning.
I’ve long railed against extreme diets. Anything that removes a significant portion of the food pyramid is not just dangerous, but also difficult to sustain. Keep in mind, I love a diet that’s heavy in fruits and vegetables. But you need to cover all of your nutritional needs.
That’s why a new study just reinforced my disdain for these types of eating patterns. It turns out that some folks who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet set themselves up for a higher risk of stroke.
Published in the BMJ, the article comes from the EPIC-Oxford study of about 48,000 participants with a variety of eating patterns.
The study had an 18-year period for follow-up that included surveys about what folks ate, how active they were, and their smoking and alcohol habits. After taking these factors into account, along with age and economic status, researchers found that vegans and vegetarians had a 20% higher risk of stroke compared to meat-eaters.
But here’s the bigger finding… vegans, vegetarians, and fish eaters (those who only eat fish as a source of meat) had far lower risks of heart disease.
That means these extreme diets lower your risk for the No. 1 killer in the U.S… but increase your risk of the No. 5 killer.
It doesn’t make intuitive sense. Strokes and heart disease share many of the same causal factors. How, then, do these people have such wildly different risks?
The answer lies in the bloodwork. The researchers drew blood from the participants and noticed something striking. The vegans and vegetarians in the study had lower levels of essential nutrients, including:
• vitamin B12
• vitamin D
• amino acids
• n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
This isn’t shocking.
Several previous studies have found links between deficiencies in these nutrients and higher stroke risk.
In fact, one study from Stroke in 2015 found that eating foods with cysteine, a type of amino acid, had an inverse relationship to stroke risk. In other words, eating more cysteine lowers your risk and vice versa. And guess which foods are the best sources of cysteine… eggs, beef, milk, pork, and fish.
Lentils also have good amounts of cysteine, but unless you make a conscious effort to eat them regularly, you likely won’t get enough on a veggie-only diet.
These nutrients play important roles in our brain health, including keeping our blood vessels healthy. So it’s no real surprise that depriving ourselves of them lead to serious consequences. We don’t have a direct cause-and-effect here, but all the previous research points to this as the answer.
Additionally, the finding on heart disease prevention is important. It’s a good reminder to increase the amount of fruits and veggies you eat every day. Remember, about 10 servings a day is best for your health.
The takeaway from studies like these is simple… enjoy the variety in life. Having meats and cheeses are fine in moderation. And while I’d never give up on my delicious bacon, if you do want to go meatless, be sure to get these essential nutrients in your diet. Add in plenty of lentils, broccoli, peppers, chia seeds, and fortified cereals and oats. And for your vitamin D, spend time outdoors in the sun every day – aim for about 20 minutes.
What We’re Reading…
- Considerations for nutrient sources for vegans.
- In case you missed it: My essay on vegetarians from 2017.
- Something different: Death by rooster and the need to understand co-existing illnesses.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 10, 2019