Adventist vegans: what can we learn?

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Seventh-day Adventists are a protestant Christian religious community spread across the globe, and one of their teachings is a focus on keeping the body healthy. This includes: abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and a promotion of a plant-based diet. Over the past few decades, there have been 3 very large studies conducted on Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda and North America, in particular, the association of plant-based diets on lowered risk for many chronic diseases. Below is a summary of some of the findings from those studies drawn from a review paper written by Dr's Joan Sabate and Lap Tai Le. 

 

Study citation: Le, LT & Sabate, J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: Findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients 2014, 6, 2131 - 2147




Vegans have a lower Body Mass Index:  

Compared to non-vegetarians:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians had 3 points lower BMI (BMI = 25.5)
  • Vegans had 5 points lower BMI  (23.1) 


Notice that a normal BMI is considered to be lower than 25. Thus, vegans were the only ones to have a normal BMI, on average. This is important because excess weight is associated with an increased risk of many chronic diseases. 


 

1. Vegetarians and vegans have lower risk of cardiometabolic risk factors: 

Compared to non-vegetarians, the vegetarians had: 

  • 55% lower odds of developing hypertension
  • 25 – 49% lower odds of developing diabetes
  • 50% lower odds of developing metabolic syndrome


However, interestingly, the reviewers looked at the differences between different types of vegetarians, in particular lacto-ovo vegetarians (those eating dairy and eggs) and vegans (fully plant-based). What the authors report is that lacto-ovo vegetarians had a 55% lower risk of hypertension. But among vegan Adventists, there was a 75% lower risk of hypertension. 

Similarly, lacto-ovo vegetarians had a 38 - 61% lower risk of type 2 diabetes vs non-vegetarians. However, vegans had up to 78% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. 

In their paper, the authors summarize the findings as such: 

“For all cardiometabolic-related outcomes, vegans had lower risk than lacto-ovo vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians.” 


Clearly, for cardiometabolic health, it is not only beneficial to cut out the meat, but to cut out the dairy and eggs too. 


 

2. The more plant-based the diet, the lower the risk of various cancers: 

Comparing vegetarians to non-vegetarians, the vegetarians had a:

  • 8% lower risk of overall-cancer
  • 1/2 the risk of developing colon cancer
  • 23% risk reduction in gastrointestinal tract cancer
  • 35% reduction in prostate cancer 

When stratifying vegans from lacto-ovo vegetarians, the vegans had a 14%  reduction for all-cause cancer, whereas the difference was not significant among lacto-ovo vegetarians. 

 

 

3. Vegans and vegetarians have lower risk of death from various chronic diseases


Vegetarians had a:

  • 10 to 20% decreased risk of all-cause mortality 
  • 26 - 68% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease, cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease
  • 48% risk reduction in mortality from breast cancer 

Lacto-ovo vegetarians had a 9% risk reduction for all-cause mortality, and the vegans 14% lower risks of all-cause mortality in males, compared to non-vegetarians. 

For cardiovascular disease mortality, the lacto-ovo vegetarians had a 23% risk reduction vs non-vegetarians, but vegans had a 42% risk reduction. For ischemic heart disease mortality, vegans had a  55% reduced risk of ischemic heart disease mortality whereas there was no significant difference in lacto-ovo vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians. 

 

 

Why is it more protective to eat plant-based? 

The authors of the paper suggests several reasons why vegetarian and particularly vegan diets may demonstrate these protective effects compared to diets incorporating animal foods. Some reasons are:

  • Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Higher intakes of dietary fiber, folate, antioxidants, phytochemicals. 
  • Whole grains, soy and nut intake is generally higher and these help lower serum cholesterol, trans/saturated fat intake, etc.

 

 

Conclusion

So what can we learn from North American Adventists who eat plant-based? Well, when one looks at the data coming out of the Adventist Health Studies, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the more plant-based someone becomes, the lower their risks of many chronic diseases.  

 

 

To read the full paper, clinic here

 

George Cho