Do Vegans Live Longer? Here’s What the Science Says

|Updated Oct 19, 2022

Eating healthier is trending, especially among younger generations. In what could be considered as surprising as a teenager applying sunscreen, younger people are avoiding meat and dairy and embracing a mostly plant-based diet for the sake of living longer.

Over 54 percent of Millennials in this country now self-identify as flexitarians and consumers of every age are searching for ways to lower their meat and dairy consumption. This coincides with a growing number of consumers who are shopping with climate change in mind, seeking products and foods that have lower carbon footprints, a group now known as "climatarians."

As Americans spend time and money to invest in their longevity, food choices are looming front and center in the fight against aging and disease. Now a body of evidence is emerging that supports the idea of eating plant-based for the sake of health, longevity, and disease prevention, but is it true that vegans actually live longer?

If all the studies are born out in reality, those reaching their elder years with faculties intact and their health largely uncompromised should also be the people eating more plant-based, less meat and dairy, and who identify as vegetarians, flexitarians, plant-based or full-tilt vegan. We set out to answer the question: Do vegans live longer?

Here is what we found.

Eating Plant-Based for Longevity

First, we looked at a recent study out of England. Eating plant-based is linked to reducing the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes when compared to health data from meat eaters. The study, which divided people into four groups, ranging from vegans to people who ate more than 5 servings of meat a week, linked frequent meat eating to pancreatic cancer.

This recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed diet and disease data in England and saw that "all causes of mortality were 12 percent lower in all vegetarians combined (including occasional meat eaters and persons who ate fish but not meat) than in nonvegetarians."

When the authors excluded data for participants known to have changed diet group at least once during follow-up, "vegetarians and vegans had significantly lower all-cause mortality than regular meat eaters," they wrote.

One particular sentence suggests there is a link between meat eating and pancreatic cancer, specifically:

"For specific causes of death, compared with regular meat eaters, low meat eaters had ∼30–45 percent lower mortality from pancreatic cancer, respiratory disease, and all other causes of death, fish eaters had ∼20 percent lower mortality from malignant cancer and ∼20. percent higher circulatory disease mortality,  and vegetarians and vegans had ∼50 percent lower mortality from pancreatic cancer and cancers of the lymphatic/hematopoietic tissue."

However, there is more work that needs to be done, they concluded.

Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that adopting a plant-based diet while simultaneously upkeeping healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising daily and not smoking, can indeed help you live better and longer.

Can Eating Vegan Help You Live Longer?

While experts believe there's more research that needs to occur before veganism can conclusively claim to prolong life expectancy, several studies suggest benefits for a longer, healthier life.

Cutting Out Meat Reduces Cancer Risk

Processed and red meat products are listed as carcinogens by the CDC, presenting significant health and longevity risks to consumers who follow the traditional Western Diet. Major health organizations including the CDC and American Heart Association have warned about the dangers of the conventional Western Diet.

Recent research has linked meat consumption with cancer development. This week, a new study revealed that eating plant-based can protect your body from several digestive cancers including liver, esophageal, gastric, and colorectal. This new research is supplemented by several additional studies that indicate that plant-based diets can substantially curb your risk for cancer, reducing your consumption of common carcinogens.

  • Giving up meat lowers your risk of cancer by 14 percent. 
  • Eating processed meat raises your risk of colon cancer by 29 percent.
  • A healthy plant-based diet reduced your breast cancer risk by 14 percent.
  • Plant-based diets triumphs over keto when analyzed for cancer prevention.

Aim for 75 Percent of Your Plate or More from Plant Foods

"Aim to make 75 percent of your plate made up of different colored vegetables," Dr. Kien Vuu told The Beet when discussing how to live longer and improve general well-being. "The richer the colors of vegetables and fruits, the more polyphenols they contain, and those antioxidants are great for our body."

Adopting a plant-based diet can be tricky at first, especially when the Western Diet – which emphasizes fatty foods and high sodium consumption – teaches Americans to rely on meat for protein. Even though you can rely exclusively on legumes and vegetables for your protein, plant-based brands have made it easier than ever to switch to vegan alternatives with meatless protein products.

Despite some high levels of sodium or preservatives, plant-based proteins make meat-free eating accessible to more American consumers. In general, many of these meat alternatives tend to be lower in calories and saturated fat, supplemented by gut-healthy ingredients such as fiber and essential nutrients.

“Vegan diets have been linked to the reduction of risk for multiple chronic health conditions associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and obesity," Brooke Jacob, registered dietitian, and program manager with ChristianaCare, told LiveScience.

"Due to its potential disease prevention links, it is not surprising that vegans may live longer, as following a vegan diet is linked to reduced occurrence of chronic disease. However, more research is needed to definitively conclude that vegans live longer than non-vegans.”

Bottom Line: Eat Plant-Based to Stay Healthy Into Old Age

Do vegans live longer? Right now, experts believe that we cannot say for sure whether a diet rich in legumes, vegetables, and fruit will help you see 100 candles on your cake. However, scientific studies do show that eating a plant-based diet can lower risk of cancer, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. Staying disease-free improves longevity and will help you age healthier and stay well for many decades to come.

For more research-backed health content, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles