Vegetarians Really Are Smarter
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January 2009

Australia's elite high IQ group Mensa has more than its fair share of vegetarians.

That might be more than coincidental, according to new research which suggests that people who choose the vegetarian path are smarter than their carnivorous counterparts.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, traced

8,000 people from birth and found that those who became vegetarian by 30 had an IQ five points above the average at the age of 10.

They also tended to be better educated and of higher social class, but even after adjusting for this, they were still more intelligent, the University of Southamptom study showed.

It's only logical that smart people are more likely to spurn meat, says Trish Kennett, chief executive of Mensa in Australia and a non-red meat eater.

"Smart people consider all aspects of their life very, very carefully," she says.

"People who think about the ethics of killing animals will naturally choose vegetarianism, and variations of that, more often."

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton says a vegetarian diet can't enhance intelligence in itself, especially if people forgo the brain-building qualities of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

But like Kennett, she says people with high IQs are likely to be thinkers.

"And thinkers are probably going to realise the ethical and health related benefits of not eating meat," she says.

Sydney IT specialist Chris Fegan seems to bear this out.

He says he was inspired to join the ranks of Australia's 400,000 vegetarians three years ago by the writings of bioethicist Peter Singer.

"I think that it's simply that to become vegetarian in our Australian society involves a break from the norm, not just copying what other people do," he says.

The research team started out by investigating the link between diet and intellect, to see if they could get to the bottom of why smarter people are less likely to get coronary heart disease.

Tracking babies born in 1970, the scientists measured IQ at age 10 and interviewed them as adults.

Almost one in 20 - 366 people - labelled themselves vegetarian at 30, though one third also ate either chicken or fish.

The non-red meat eaters were also more likely to be female.

Male vegetarians had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians, while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for their meat-eating peers.

"Our finding that children with greater intelligence are more likely to report being vegetarian as adults, coupled with the evidence on the potential health benefits of a vegetarian diet, may help to explain why higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life," they concluded.

The study appears to vindicate what some of the world's greatest thinkers have said through history.

The 18th century scientist and ardent vegetarian Benjamin Franklin said a vegetarian diet brought a "greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension".

Nineteenth century playwright George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying "a mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows".

And Shakespeare had his Twelfth Night character Sir Andrew Aguecheck say "I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm my wit"

Mark Berriman, director of the Australian Vegetarian Society NSW, jokes that the study is only saying what vegetarians have known all along.

"We've always known us vegetarians are smarter ... but it's nice to have the proof."

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