There’s an old Irish saying: “I drink to your health when I’m with you; I drink to your health when I’m alone; I drink to your health so often, I’m starting to worry about my own.”  While one may be forgiven for indulging on St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll live longer if you “put on the green” year round by adopting a more vegetarian diet.

Two new studies highlight the health benefits of herbivore habits. The first, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared coronary disease rates among carnivores and vegetarians, and found that plant-based diets conferred significant protection. The Oxford University study followed roughly 45,000 subjects for nearly two decades, looking at a variety of factors, from age, to activity levels, educational backgrounds, and of course lifestyle habits including dietary patterns. Vegetarians were a third less likely to suffer heart attacks severe enough to land them in the hospital or an early grave. They also enjoyed lower body mass indices (BMIs), lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol — correlating with lower risk of cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s, in addition to better heart health.

Such results may help explain the findings of the second study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which linked lower death rates with vegetarianism. Researchers reviewed dietary habits of more than 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists, and found that vegetarian diets were associated with lower all-cause mortality, particularly among men. Some variations of plant-based diets offered more longevity benefits than others.  For example — when looking at all-cause mortality alone, pesco-vegetarians had the lowest risk, followed by vegan, lacto-ovo and semi-vegetarians.

These findings add to the mounting body of research on the longevity benefits of leaning green. Did you know, for example, that  vegetarian women weigh less than their carnivorous peers? Or that lower meat consumption correlates with up to 40% lower risk of colorectal cancer? What to do with all those luscious fruits and vegetables?  Try our featured recipe, Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Published March 1, 2014