Vegetarians have Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders that are associated with an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The disorders generally include high blood pressure, triglycerides, waist circumference, blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol.

Cross-sectional data of 773 subjects from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS2) showed that, when compared to regular meat-eaters, vegetarians (those eating meat or fish less than 1 time per month) had a 56% lower rate of metabolic syndrome (0.44, 0.30-0.64). Adjustments were made for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, and caloric intake.

Semi-vegetarians (defined as consuming fish at any frequency but consuming other meats ≥ 1 time per month but < 1 time/week), had an intermediate rate (specific data not reported).

It was somewhat disturbing (though not completely surprising given a previous report from the AHS2) to see that although the vegetarians had the lowest average body mass index of the three groups, even theirs would be considered overweight at 25.7 kg/m2 (healthy is considered to be 20.0 to 25.0).

Thanks, Matt and Dima.


Rizzo NS, Sabaté J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fraser GE. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome: The Adventist Health Study 2. Diabetes Care. 2011 Mar 16. (Link)

10 Responses to “Vegetarians have Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome”

  1. Vegetarians Face Reduced Risk of Metabolic Syndrome Says:

    […] study didn’t look at vegans who eat only whole foods. I’d love to see the number for that. Link. Spread the […]

  2. Kamal Says:

    This is really interesting!! Just kidding, it’s not. Cross-sectional and cohort data is great for validating any viewpoint at all. Did you know that those consuming the most fiber from vegetables have higher cancer rates than average? Cohort data, baby.

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > Cross-sectional and cohort data is great for validating any viewpoint at all.

    That’s easy to say, but I disagree with the implication that cross-sectional and cohort data is useless.

  4. Kamal Says:

    Who brought up that implication? It’s obviously useful for generating hypotheses.

  5. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I don’t see any other way of interpreting your original comment. The study on metabolic syndrome above does not prove that a vegetarian diet causes a lower risk for metabolic syndrome, because it could be that people with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome are more likely to become vegetarian; and I think there may be some truth to that. But it does prove that vegetarians, at least in that study, have a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, regardless of what the cause may be.

    But even if people without metabolic syndrome are somewhat more likely to become vegetarian, I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to think that a vegetarian diet was somewhat responsible for the lower risk of metabolic syndrome in this study as there are plenty of clinical trials that indicate it does (or can depending on what sort of vegetarian diet).

    As for prospective cohort studies, they can indicate whether a vegetarian diet leads to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome over time.

  6. Name (required) Says:

    And continues unabashedly in its quest to misrepresent studies.

  7. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > And continues unabashedly in its quest to misrepresent studies.

    “unabashedly” seems a bit strong. Erik should have said “vegetarians are 56 percent less likely to have the syndrome,” instead of “get the syndrome.” But it was probably an honest mistake.

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Erik Marcus of has changed his post from “get” to “have”, proving what I suspected, that he had no intention of misleading anyone.

  9. Carole Says:

    Hi, Jack. I am a 53 year old vegan who suffers from PCOS and the binge eating that sometimes plagues those of us with the condition. Hence, I do have metabolic syndrome–rounded stomach, high blood sugar, etc. Some of the PCOS sites argue that all patients with the condition should have high fish (and other animal protein) intake. Sorry, I just can’t do it. The idea of eating meat or fish just turns me off. What is your “take” on the PCOS dietary advice? Do you have any recommendations to make? If so, please share.

  10. Jack Norris RD Says:


    The Mayo Clinic usually has reliable advice and in the case of PCOS, what they say about diet makes it sound like a vegan diet should be able to fit well:

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