How Healthy Is A Vegetarian Diet?

Article 18_cutting_640x312What are the benefits of following a vegetarian diet – a diet that doesn’t include meat?  There are many benefits.  A healthy, well-planned vegetarian diet may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.[1]  In the EPIC Study, for example, involving over 44,000 men and women, those who consumed a vegetarian diet appeared to be over 30% less likely to suffer from heart disease.[2]  Their risk of diverticular disease appeared to be also much lower.  This is a common bowel disease that is considered a “disease of western civilization”.  Lack of fibre may play a role and typical symptoms may include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhea.[3]

How may a vegetarian diet benefit health?  This plant-based diet generally delivers more fibre, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate and carotenoids, as well as more antioxidant-rich plant compounds, including flavonoids.[4]

What does a good vegetarian diet look like?  It includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Meat is replaced with nuts, seeds and beans, including soy products that are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.  Lack of good planning can lead to nutrient deficiencies, especially for nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 fats, iron and zinc.[5]  It is important to note that strict vegetarians or vegans who omit all animal products from their diet, including milk, eggs and fish and don’t get enough vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats may actually increase their risk of disease.[6]  Good planning is critical to a healthy vegetarian diet.

Last, but certainly not least, a diet that includes lots of healthy foods and small amounts of lean meat, such as a Mediterranean-style eating plan, can be healthy too![7]

[1] Craig, W., et al.  “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82.

[2] Crowe, F., et al.  “Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study.”  Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Mar;97(3):597-603.

[3] Crowe, F., et al.  “Diet and risk of diverticular disease in Oxford cohort of European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC): prospective study of British vegetarians and non-vegetarians.”  BMJ. 2011 Jul 19;343:d4131.

[4] Craig, W., et al.  “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82.

[5] Craig, W.  “Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets.”  Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):613-20.

[6] Li, D.  “Chemistry behind Vegetarianism.”   J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Feb 9;59(3):777-84.

[7] Sofi, F., et al.  “Mediterranean diet and health.”  Biofactors. 2013 Jul;39(4):335-42.


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