Our recent poll on vegan diets resulted in over 1,100 votes -- and over 80% believed that vegan diets are healthy and sustainable. The resulting comments are heated to say the least...

So let's just carry on this controversial subject:

New results have surfaced from one of the most prolific health studies ever conducted showing (maybe) that animal-based low carb diets increase mortality rate moreso than a vegetable-based low carb diets. Let's take a look at whether we should be cutting back on meat.

Study Particulars

Participants: 85,168 women (aged 34 to 59 years at baseline) and 44,548 men (aged 40 to 75 years at baseline) without heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Results: The overall low-carbohydrate score was associated with a modest increase in overall mortality.

Conclusions: A low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources was associated with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women, whereas a vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates.

What Does This Mean?

Depends on who you ask. For noted low fat/plant-based diet advocate Dean Ornish, this is an I told you so study. Pop over to low carb cheerleader Jimmy Moore's site, however and there is an entirely different tune.

Objective Conclusions and other Take Home Messages

It always makes for a compelling study when the word mortality is attached to it. And while this study is epic in terms of the number of subjects, one must take its flaws into consideration before coming to hasty conclusions.

1. Food frequency questionnaires: This kind of data collection relies on recalling food intake - often over long stretches of time - which makes accuracy sketchy at best. 
2.The prospective study (collect subjects and follow them) is made up of physicians and nurses who a) tend to be more carnivorous and b) tend to have a uniform Western-style eating pattern (ie. The lowest meat-eating dieters don't differ significantly from the highest meat-eating dieters).

Couple this with the fact that the difference in all-risk mortality was categorized as moderate and you have a recipe for a largely inconclusive study.

Here are some take-home messages

  • The best diet is the one that you can stick with (and that's reasonably healthy).
  • You are going to die regardless of which diet you follow and hence meat-heavy diets will neither increase nor decrease your risk of mortality (pet peeve out of the way).
  • While you can't necessarily draw any hard-lined conclusions about this study, it does highlight the need to validate or invalidate the data through a randomized control trial.
  • The eating patterns studied did not emulate any commercial diet (ie. Atkins or Eco-Atkins)
  • There exists no causal relationship between moderate meat consumption and disease or mortality.
  • Longevity is based on so many intricate lifestyle factors that it's nearly impossible to tease out one significant factor.
  • Instead of trying to focus on the minutiae, aim for a whole foods-based diet that allows for some indulgences and is high in vegetables and fruits, has adequate protein (from meat and/or non-meat sources), and good sources of fat.