A new study shows vegetarians might have a lower body mass index than meat eaters, but UF experts are skeptical.
The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study online that surveyed the diets and BMI of more than 71,000 subjects with an average age of 59. The different diets ranged from “nonvegetarians” to “strict vegetarians.”
Linda Bobroff, UF foods and nutrition professor, said she thinks the term strict vegetarians refers to people who don’t eat any animal-based foods.
The study said each subject ate about 2,000 calories a day. Nonvegetarians had the highest BMI, while strict vegetarians had the lowest, according to the study.
But Neil Rowland, UF psychology department chair, said just considering the level of meat in a diet is not strong enough evidence to determine a relationship between eating meat and a high BMI. Exercise is another component that should be considered.
However, he said, he doesn’t think lowering meat intake is a bad idea to lose weight, but just cutting one food group is not enough to lose weight and maintain it.
“You really have to think about a lifestyle change,” he said.
Soohyoun Ahn, UF assistant professor of food safety, said she thought the study was interesting but “a little biased and risky” because it didn’t account for subjects’ exercise habits or what types of meats they ate.
Bobroff said restrictive diets often cut out nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin D. She said she is concerned with young college students who follow these limiting diets.
“You really have to know what you’re doing to put together a healthful diet,” she said.
A version of this story ran on page 5 on 10/24/2013 under the headline "Vegetarian diet lowers BMI"