Study: Vegetarians Who Drink and Smoke Are Healthier Than Carnivores

|Updated May 21, 2021
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First things first: It goes without saying that lighting up a cigarette or knocking back a bottle of booze is bad for your health. In fact, here are five ways alcohol may be sabotaging your healthy diet efforts.

With that being said, some interesting new research, presented at the European Congress of Obesity from researchers at the University of Glasgow is a testament to just how powerful a vegetarian or vegan diet can be. Even if you account for lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol intake, vegetarians had significantly better biomarker levels than meat-eaters across important areas like total cholesterol, metrics related to heart disease, signs of inflammation, and more.

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, CT, breaks down the findings: “In research presented at the European Congress on Obesity this year, researchers from the University of Glasgow looked at more than 177,223 healthy British adults—finding that vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, regardless of factors such as age, weight, smoking habits, or alcohol intake,” she says.

“The vegetarian eaters had significantly lower levels of 13 important biomarkers including total cholesterol, LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, and a hormone that encourages cancer cells to grow. As we previously reported on a deep dive of the study’s findings, only 4,111 of these participants were self-reported vegetarians, so it’d certainly bolster this encouraging if more vegetarians and plant-based eaters made up a larger percentage of study participants.

Nevertheless, the takeaways from this landmark study continue to leave experts very, very impressed. “These findings are incredible. I wouldn’t go and tell vegan and vegetarian eaters not to worry about their weight, smoking, or alcohol habits. The takeaway that I’m going to move forward with is that following a plant-based diet can impact your health in potentially more ways than we previously knew about,” says Gorin.

“I look forward to seeing similar studies completed, so we can have a larger body of research backing up these benefits.” Another study lending credence to the one at hand? A February 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that choosing plant-based protein sources may lower your risk for serious disease and death.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat. And even the most conscientious of plant-based eaters don’t want to morph into tobacco and Cabernet. “So a vegan or vegetarian eater who eats many servings of fruits and vegetables daily, as well as a variety of plant proteins and healthy fats is going to be healthier than the plant-based eater who lives off of French fries and pasta,” says Gorin.