When it comes to health in the media, reducetarians generally expect good news. That only makes it all the more surprising to read the recent headlines claiming, "New study says vegetarianism can cause cancer," or even, "Being a vegetarian could kill you, science warns."
The authors of the study in question recently came out to protest the widespread misinterpretation of their research. In an email statement to IndianExpress.com, Kumar Kothapalli and his colleagues at Cornell University clarified, "Vegetarian diets are good and healthy when made of traditional vegetarian foods."
Kothapalli and his team were studying a gene that helps the body build essential compounds out of plant foods. (Alternatively, the body can get these compounds directly from animal foods). They compared US populations with a population in India that had been predominantly vegetarian for many generations. The gene turned out to be almost four times as common in the Indian population. The researchers conclude that the gene proliferated in the Indian population because it improved the health of people following traditional vegetarian diets.
However, depending on the plant foods the body is converting into cells, this gene can also cause the production of arachidonic acid, which is associated with chronic diseases. Specifically, this happens when a person's diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the modern Western diet is more than double what it should be.
The problem for people with this gene is not vegetarianism itself, but an unhealthy vegetarian diet. The Cornell scientists do not think vegetarians should take up meat and all the health risks that come with it. Rather, they recommend seeking out olive and mustard oils, while decreasing consumption of safflower, corn, and soybean oils.
Written by Cameron Meyer Shorb