Do Vegetarians Live Longer? #534 09/10/2013

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Ask the Expert: Do Vegetarians Live Longer?

By Denis Faye

Search Google and you'll discover millions of articles regarding the pros and cons of both meat-o-phile and meat-free lifestyles. Frustratingly, many of these articles tend to manipulate the data to serve the writer's oft-dogmatic hypothesis. Frankly, I don't blame them, given that data on how meat affects the human body tends to be vague and confusing.

Woman eating an Apple

There are a few established facts when it comes to how animal product consumption influences our longevity. But for everything we know, there are 10 things we don't know—and 20 things we think we know that will be disproven before I finish writing this article. So, to some degree, when it comes to dissecting how your body will respond to a specific dietary direction, the ideal strategy is to follow the words of Tao Te Ching scribe Lao Tsu: "To know that you do not know is the best."

So let's focus on vegetarianism from an anthropological perspective. And, in case you're wondering, I'm leaving ethics out of the equation. That's a topic for a different article.

From a scientific point of view, there's plenty of evidence out there showing that vegetarians live longer, but that evidence can be easily disputed. There's also plenty of evidence indicating too much red meat will kill you. But, it's easy to tear holes in that research. Why? Because absolutes tend to fall apart under scrutiny when it comes to nutritional information.

One of the newest studies on this was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine (JAMA: IM) and received a lot of attention in the media. The study looked at the mortality rate of almost 100,000 men and women in North America over a five-year period. The media consistently—and mistakenly—reported the study found that vegetarians outlive meat eaters.1

TilapiaRead the fine print of the study, and you'll see that pescetarians—those who have a mostly plant-based diet but eat some seafood—were the true winners, with a slightly lower mortality rate than vegans, ovo-lacto vegetarians, and indiscriminate meat eaters. This may have to do with the food, but it could also be because pescetarians tend to put quite a bit of thought into their intricate dietary direction. Because they are often pickier when it comes to the food choices they make, they might do the same when it comes to other aspects of their lives such as exercise, smoking, getting enough sleep, etc.

The JAMA study also overlooked the quality of the animal products, which many experts believe can have a huge impact on the health of the meat eater in question. The longevity of a Big Mac® eater is most likely much shorter than the person who regularly dines on wild venison.

The health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle have long been a popular topic. Documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and books such as The China Study by T. Colin Campbell have made compelling cases for going veggo. The China Study, which summarizes a 20-year China/Cornell/Oxford study on the effects of animal products on the mortality rate of thousands of people across China, is the go-to reference for vegetarian longevity.2

However, while the study is genuinely compelling, a number of very credible experts have poked holes in it over the years, including Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, who suggested that Campbell may have manipulated data to support his vegetarian hypothesis.3 But meat-heavy diets are probably not the ideal answer either. Relevant research is starting to show that early man's diet wasn't the meaty meat fest we had initially believed it to be. A study last year in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology measured nitrogen levels in body tissues, determining that we've been overestimating the number of saber-toothed tiger burgers prehistoric humans ate. Given the basic principle of Paleo eating is that our bodies are designed to eat the way our ancestors ate, it looks like we're supposed to be eating (say it with me now) a largely plant-based diet and some animal products.4

Oil on BreadWhen it comes to nutrition, nothing is black and white. Meat isn't bad. But, what is starting to come out of these studies is that less meat is better. Here's another example. In The Blue Zones, National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner searched the globe for "blue zones," areas where people often lived healthy, fruitful lives well into their 90s. One common factor of the four zones featured in his book—Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica—was that their inhabitants all ate a largely plant-based diet as well as some animal products.5

Nutrition gurus including Dr. Dean Ornish (author of Eat More, Weigh Less) and author Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma)—whose slogan is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."—also endorse this notion of animal product moderation. As renowned food writer Marion Nestle says in her book What to Eat, "Fruits and vegetables are the one point of consensus—an oasis—in arguments about what to eat. Everyone agrees that eating more of them is a good idea."6, 7, 8

Yet, while there's certainly a pattern emerging here, the specifics are still unclear. What kind of animal products? How much is "some"? To answer these questions, I suggest turning your focus of research to your own body. Generally speaking, you'll live longer if you're healthier, and what makes individuals healthy shifts from person to person (a theory known as "biochemical individuality"). Pay attention to how your diet affects you. How do you feel? How are your moods? How is your energy level? What's your weight?

If you really want to earn your white lab coat, check your blood work. I've been a pescetarian for 13 years (and an ovo-lacto vegetarian for five years before that). My doctor continues to be blown away by my cholesterol levels. "Some people would pay a lot of money for blood like yours," he marveled at my most recent check-up. So clearly, I've found a system that works. For me.

Any diet you choose should have a solid foundation of fruits and veggies, but the amount of animal products you consume depends on the most valuable research tool you have: you.

What are your favorite vegetarian meals? Tell us at

  1. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2
  2. Campbell, T. Colin & Campbell, Thomas M. (2006). The China Study. Dallas, TX: BenBella.
  3. The Protein Debate
  4. The Diet-Body Offset in Human Nitrogen Isotopic Values: A Controlled Dietary Study.
  5. Buettner, Dan. (2008). The Blue Zones. Washington D.C.: National Geographic.
  6. Doctors Explain Healthy Way for Bill Clinton's Dramatic Weight Loss
  7. Pollan, Michael. (2008). In Defense of Food. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
  8. Nestle, Marion. (2006). What to Eat. New York, NY: North Point Press.

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Got Roommates? 6 Tips for Quieter At-Home Workouts

By Zack Zeigler

Whatever Beachbody® workout you're doing, you might find that you're landing jumps, kicks, and leaps with as much grace as Mario pouncing on Goombas (they're the mushrooms from Super Mario Bros., not one of Tony Soprano's associates). And then there are those Plyo Push-Ups.

Man Jumping Rope

If you live in a freestanding house or work out in a dedicated exercise room in your apartment complex, your galumphing won't be an issue. That's not the case for people who have roommates, downstairs neighbors, or a shared housing situation. Let's face it. Nobody wants to tolerate mini-earthquakes just so you can squeeze in a few more reps of Jack-in-the-Box Knee Tucks.

To help you continue to train with intensity but without infuriating your neighbors or housemates, we asked Steve Edwards, Beachbody's Director of Fitness, to help us make some of the loudest moves quieter.


In this move, you're performing a vertical jump, touching the floor with your fingers, and exploding upward as you pull your knees to your chest. At the crest of the jump, you slap your knees with your hands. Basically, there are two surefire ways make these noiseless: Do them underwater or in outer space. Otherwise, there's practically no way to prevent pounding on the floorboards.

Do them quieter: Edwards suggests subbing in Step-Up Convicts from P90X2®; they're a slow contraction exercise (not a jump), but they work the same muscles. "You're doing a reverse lunge and stepping onto a platform or box, and then lifting your leg," he says. "It's a great exercise for your lower body and to improve jumping ability." If noise isn't an issue, you can also add an element of post-activation potentiation (P.A.P.) here, where you pair a resistance exercise with an explosive movement. "Try doing Step-Up Convicts first and then doing three Jack-in-the-Box Knee Tucks, jumping high and landing softly and in control on an exercise mat."


Godzilla has a muted shrill. The werewolf has an echoing howl. The mummy has a drawn-out groan as if nine Hot Pockets® were wreaking havoc in his gut. Point is, all monsters are noisy. Monster Slalom Jumps can be too if you don't stick the landing: Your legs are together, your knees are bent, and you're exploding laterally for both speed and distance.

Do them quieter: "Shrink the distance you're jumping down to about 18 inches, or whatever you can land quietly while still moving quickly," advises Edwards. Want more noise reduction? Do them barefoot on an exercise mat, but be sure to take precaution when doing so. First, going barefoot can lead to injury if you don't dial down the intensity or allow your feet to adapt properly. Second, your offensive foot odor might render the room a health hazard.


A Boing Push-Up—grabbing the side of a physio ball and then smashing the ball into the floor as you do a push-up—is a great move for working the pecs, delts, triceps, and core. It's also an amazing way to exercise your downstairs neighbors' patience since the "boing" sounds like a giant basketball is being hammered into their ceiling.

Do them quieter: Ditch the "boing" but keep the push-up. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that a push-up provided the same amount of benefits—whether it was of the stable or unstable variety.


The objective: Perform a lateral jump, land on one foot, do a squat, and then touch your hand to your opposite foot. These are a great move to help build balance and strengthen your glutes and legs, but they can turn into a clunky mess if you attempt to set distance records with each jump.

Do them quieter: "If you can't land quietly, you're out of control and jumping too far," says Edwards. Focus on speed and control instead of distance. It's a hard thing to do when you're watching Tony Horton and Co. rip through them in P90X2, but remember that Horton isn't going to pop through your TV screen and chew you out if you scale back your jumps to cut down on the noise . . . at least we're 90% sure he won't.


It doesn't seem like there'd be anything loud about getting into a chair/squat position with your arms up as you run rapidly in place, jumping into the air when you're prompted. But do it when you're exhausted and it can sound like a herd of elephants wearing cement shoes are doing the Harlem Shake.

Do them quieter: Make it a point not to move at breakneck speeds, and stay committed to that squat/chair position. As you get tired, you'll want to stand. Don't. Tough it out, slow things down, stay in control, and visualize landing on a cloud of marshmallows and kitten fur as you jump. Doing that on a soft exercise mat or area rug—specifically on hardwood floors—should help keep the sound in check. However, it might also make you want to get a kitten. They're just so cute!

NOTE: Apply the same landing technique for Power Jumps, Slalom Line Jumps, and Holmsen Screamer Lunges.


This movement taxes every muscle in your body: Drop into a plank position, perform a push-up, spring back to your feet, and finish with a vertical jump as you pull your knees to your chest. And that's precisely why the difference between Frog Burpee Hop number 3 and, say, Frog Burpee Hop number 23 is the ability to land softly and possessing the will to live.

How to make them quieter: "Burpees look like go-for-it movements, but they require a lot of control," Edwards reveals. "You've lost control of the motion if you're jumping so high that you're landing with a thud." Your play: Cut down on the height of the jump without sacrificing your form or speed.

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Foods That Fight PMS

By Kara Wahlgren

You're crampy, you're bloated, you're completely miserable. Time to curl up on the couch and pop a . . . wild salmon filet? Okay, we know, you were probably thinking along the lines of extra-strength ibuprofen. But the right foods can actually help to stave off your worst PMS symptoms—no meds needed! Here's how to avoid that monthly dose of misery, just by changing what you put on your plate

Woman with Hot Water Bottle on Stomach

Fend Off Inflammation

When you're hit with cramps, achy joints, or a splitting headache, your first instinct may be to pop an anti-inflammatory. But before you make a beeline for the medicine cabinet, rethink your diet. Studies have shown that cutting back on carbs can help to soothe inflammation.1 That may not be the best news when you're feeling crabby and craving pizza—but do your body a favor and reach for healthier fare. "You want to avoid anything that's going to trigger inflammation—bagels, cupcakes, muffins," says Dana James, C.N.S., director of Food Coach NYC. "Those foods can exacerbate cramping and breast tenderness."

Skip the Salt

No one really knows why you retain water before you get your period, but bloating is a common PMS symptom.2 The good news is that you can battle the monthly muffin top by limiting your sodium intake, since salt can make water retention worse. Of course that means resisting your potato chip cravings, but don't forget to also watch for sneaky sodium in canned goods and frozen meals.

Load Up on Minerals

If you're ready to bite someone's head off, reach for a banana. "Potassium can reduce PMS mood swings," says Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., author of The One One One Diet. (If you're not a banana fan, cherries are another great source of potassium.) Crabby and crampy? Mix some kale into a smoothie, or add the powerhouse veggie into a salad. "Kale is an incredible source of magnesium, which causes muscle relaxation," James says. "It's also really rich in sulforaphane, which is going to help regulate those hormone levels."

Get Your Vitamins

Mushroom Stir-FryYou already know vitamins are important, but a few in particular can help alleviate PMS symptoms. Make sure your meals are loaded with these three helpers:

  • Vitamin E. "Avocados are rich in this vitamin, which helps to regulate hormone levels and decrease cramping," James says.
  • Vitamin D. "Vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in reducing cramping and breast tenderness by up to 40%," James says. Find it in wild salmon, fortified juice, or mushrooms.3
  • Vitamin B6. "Studies suggest that vitamin B6 can reduce PMS cravings," Batayneh says. Reach for a handful of nuts, eggs (keep the yolks!), or sweet potatoes.

Don't Forget the Omega-3s!

Their anti-inflammatory properties can work wonders—especially when you combine them with helpful vitamins and minerals, "In a nutshell, if you take magnesium, B complex, and omega-3 supplements, you'll alleviate cramps, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, and crankiness," James says. "Not kidding. It's a simple solution."

Ditch Your Vices

You liver plays an important role in regulating your hormone balance,4 so try not to tax it with coffee or alcohol. Can't imagine starting your day sans coffee? Pour a cup of herbal tea instead. A few naturally decaf varieties—like chamomile or raspberry tea—can even help regulate hormones and soothe anxiety during that time of the month.5

Recharge with Iron

SpinachIf you find yourself feeling run-down, iron can help. And the important mineral doesn't just fight off fatigue—a recent study at the University of Massachusetts found that women with iron-rich diets were up to 40% less likely to develop PMS in the first place.6 The theory is that iron not only reduces muscle fatigue, but also helps with the production of serotonin, the brain chemical that helps to regulate your emotions. To reap the benefits, look for iron-rich foods like spinach, tofu, red meat, or cooked beans. *An important note: Don't take iron supplements without your doctor's approval, as they can be toxic to a very small percentage of the population. But, don't worry – you'll never get sick from eating food sources high in the mineral.

What helps your PMS symptoms? Tell us at

  1. Low-Carb Diet Reduces Inflammation and Blood Saturated Fat in Metabolic Syndrome
  2. Water Retention: Relieve this Pre-Menstrual Symptom
  3. Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin D
  4. The Liver's Role in Hormone Balance
  5. The Best Natural Remedies for PMS
  6. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome

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Recipe: Balsamic Pork and Apple Skewers

(Makes 2 servings, 2 skewers each)

Balsamic Pork and Apple Skewers
Total Time: 27 min.
Prep Time: 15 min.
Cooking Time: 12 min.


  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. all-natural tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. all-fruit plum preserves (or apricot preserves)
  • 10 oz. raw pork loin, cut into 12 cubes
  • 1 medium apple (like Braeburn), peeled, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper (to taste; optional)


  1. Preheat grill or broiler to medium-high.
  2. Combine vinegar, tomato paste, and preserves in a small bowl; whisk to blend. Set aside.
  3. Place a piece of pork, a wedge of apple, and a wedge of onion onto a skewer. Repeat, and add an additional piece of pork. Each skewer will have three pieces of pork, two pieces of apple, and two pieces of onion. Repeat with three remaining skewers.
  4. Brush skewers with oil; season with salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Grill or broil skewers for 5 to 6 minutes, turning every 2 minutes.
  6. Brush with vinegar mixture; cook for an additional 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, and brushing occasionally with vinegar mixture, until pork is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear.

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol Sodium Carbs Fiber Sugar Protein
293 7 g 2 g 69 mg 492 mg 29 g 5 g 20 g 30 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

Body Beast and P90X®/P90X2® Portion Information

P90X/P90X2 Nutritional Information:
Protein Fruit Condiment
1-1/2 1 1

Body Beast Nutritional Information:
Proteins Fruits
3 2-1/2

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

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