Just the facts. From the experts.

Despite the steady supply of snow many of us have faced, we are just a few short months away from grilling season and the opportunity for the outdoor al-fresco dining that make summer meals with friends and family so enjoyable. Hamburgers, ribs and other grilled meats are typically featured at backyard parties, but some of our readers are wondering: would choosing a diet of vegetables instead of meat make for a longer and healthier life?

An ongoing Loma Linda University research effort studying 96,000 Adventists seems to suggest just that. Best Food Facts asked Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, RD, FDC, who teaches in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida, about the research.

 Dr. Wendy Dahl

Dahl says, while much still needs to be understood, she’s not surprised by the findings of these studies. “People that choose a vegetarian lifestyle are obviously conscious of their eating habits and are trying to make healthy choices. However, they also make other healthy choices such as not smoking, exercising, etc., that could also contribute to lower risk of disease. These healthy lifestyle decisions may help them live longer.”

Dahl points out that the studies are designed only to find correlation, not cause and effect – which means further research is necessary. She said that a plant-based vegetarian diet that contains lots of fiber “may contribute to vegetarians living longer and may provide numerous other health-promoting phytochemicals found in plant foods. This is because fiber is known for its beneficial health effects such as lowering cholesterol, reducing heart disease risk, regulating blood sugar, and possibly reducing colorectal cancer risk.“

And while just five percent of U.S. residents polled consider themselves vegetarians, that means most of us choose to eat meat either regularly or occasionally. Making healthy food choices is important to a healthy lifestyle, whether you are a vegetarian or not, and the USDA recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and supplemented with lean protein, including lean cuts of meat and dairy.

So, as you plan your first cookout and consider options for vegetarians and meat-eating guests, the best approach to offering guests a delicious and healthy meal is to shop for lean protein and partner it with menu options such as grilled vegetables and fresh fruits too. That way, everyone will have choices that fit a healthy lifestyle.

Have we gotten you craving a delicious vegetarian dish to go along with your next grill out? Try this mouth-watering Orzo Pasta Salad with Grilled Veggies, from the Have Dessert First blog

Orzo Pasta Salad with Grilled Veggies

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