Vegetarians beat meat-eaters when it comes to many health biomarkers

A new study led by the University of Glasgow has found that vegetarians, defined as people who do not eat meat including fish, have many beneficial biomarkers pointing toward lower disease risk compared to people who eat meat. The benefits weren't found across the board, however, with vegetarians also found to have lower levels of certain biomarkers linked to health.

The new research, which is set for presentation at the virtual European Congress on Obesity, involved the self-reported data on more than 177,000 adults in the United Kingdom, 4,111 of whom reported eating a meat-free vegetarian diet. The researchers accounted for factors that may influence the data, including things like alcohol consumption and smoking.

After accounting for those possible influences, the researchers found that vegetarians had 'significantly' lower levels of biomarkers that indicate lower disease risk, including ones related to cardiovascular disease, liver function, IGF-1, creatinine, and 'bad' cholesterol — at least when compared to people who ate meat.

The biomarkers weren't ideal across the board, however, with those who reported eating a vegetarian diet also having lower levels of biomarkers linked to health benefits, including ones related to calcium, vitamin D, and 'good' cholesterol. Beyond that, the study also found that vegetarians had 'significantly' elevated blood triglyceride levels and evidence of poorer kidney function.

This was an observational study and therefore isn't able to directly link eating a vegetarian diet to lower health risk. In explaining the reason for these observed potential benefits, the study's lead researcher Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales said:

Our findings offer real food for thought. As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds. These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.