This week, protein supplement company P-fit released the results of their survey of 2,498 vegetarians saying that most of them believed their diet was lacking in – you’ve guessed it – protein! Apparently, around 600 of them reckoned their diet was lacking in protein, iron and B12. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they thought they were malnourished!
Ross Beagrie, managing director of P-Fit said: “Many vegetarians insist that they are just as healthy, or healthier, than meat eaters; but the fact remains that being a vegetarian means you really have to work to make up the nutrients you are losing in animal products. Protein and vitamin supplements should be your best friend…”
This is curious given the results of just about ALL of the thousands of studies comparing vegetarians to meat-eaters show that vegetarians and vegans are healthier; they weigh less, have lower blood pressures and cholesterol, a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Oh yes, and they live longer!
The large, well-respected European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) studies have found that vegetarians in Western countries are around 30 per cent less likely to die from heart disease and 18 per cent less likely to get cancer than meat-eaters.
Previous studies in the EPIC-Oxford cohort showed vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, diverticular disease, cataracts, high blood pressure, kidney stones and some types of cancer. They say “Appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally adequate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle and across all physical activity levels”.
A 2016 EPIC-Oxford cohort study of over 30,000 men and women living in the UK, compared the nutrient intakes of 18,244 meat-eaters, 4,531 fish-eaters, 6,673 vegetarians and 803 vegans (a substantial population study). They found that there was high compliance most people met the population dietary goals and nutritional inadequacy was generally low.
Vegetarians and vegans had higher intakes of important fibre and healthy polyunsaturated fats and lower intakes of unhealthy saturated fats compared to meat-eaters. This nutrient profile is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and along with high intakes of magnesium and low or zero intake of haem iron (seen in vegetarians and vegans in this study) is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Similar results have been seen in the extensive US Adventist Health Studies.
This study found vegans had the highest intakes of magnesium, iron and copper, all of which were lowest in meat eaters, showing that you don’t need meat for iron. So why the vegetarians in the P-fit survey thought they might be lacking iron is a mystery.
The World Health Organisation say that 10-15 per cent of our energy should come from protein. This study found vegetarians and vegans got 14 per cent and 13.1per cent respectively, both well-within the recommended guidelines. The meat-eaters exceeded the limit at 17.2 per cent.
Put another way, current guidelines recommend you eat 0.8g of protein daily per kg of bodyweight. Again the vegetarians and vegans met the target (1.04g and 0.99g). The meat-eaters got 1.28g of protein daily per kg bodyweight – remember, too much protein (especially animal protein) is harmful.
The meat-eaters didn’t eat enough fibre, failing to meet the goal of 23g a day (in the UK 30g a day is now recommended). They also ate too much unhealthy saturated fat (linked to high cholesterol and heart disease) exceeding the recommended maximum of less than 10 per cent of energy. The meat-eaters also were the only group not getting enough vitamin E, with over half of them failing to achieve adequate intakes.
Vegetarians and vegans fared better but there were some concerns about vitamin B12 and iodine being on the low side. However, the food tables used in the study did not take account of B12-fortified foods, so the B12 intake may have been underestimated. That said, Viva! Health do recommend that vegans and everyone over 50 take a supplement. Other vegan-specific recommendations advise taking 5-10μg of B12 daily, unless at least three servings of fortified foods per day are consumed on a regular basis.
For iodine, this study did not record the use of seaweed and iodised salt, two potentially concentrated sources. Furthermore data on iodine supplements were not available. So again, intake among vegetarians and vegans may have been underestimated. Viva! Health recommend the regular use of small amounts of powdered or crumbled sea vegetables added to soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes or used as a condiment, as an excellent way to ensure a sufficient iodine intake. Read the label though as too much iodine can be harmful (it can disrupt thyroid function).
Links to the news: Express: Vegetarian warning: A QUARTER who go meat-free admit to being malnourished, survey reveals