What are the possible benefits of a vegetarian diet?

Dr. Joy Dubost, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Appropriately planned vegetarian diets can be healthful, nutritionally adequate and possibly provide health benefits in the treatment and even prevention of certain diseases. This holds true during all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adults. In 2006, based on a nationwide poll, less than 3% of the US adult population consistently followed a vegetarian diet.

Key nutrients which vegetarians need to focus on include protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine calcium, vitamin D and B-12. A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all these nutrients with thoughtful consideration of the diet. Occasionally supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of these nutrients. An evidence based review conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that vegetarian diets as compared to nonvegetarian diets are associated with the following:

  • Lower risk of death from heart disease
  • Lower "bad" (LDL) cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower rates of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower body mass index (BMI)—lower body weight relative to height
  • Lower cancer rates

Typically vegetarian diets represent the following:

  • Lower saturated fat and cholesterol intake
  • Higher intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber and phytochemical—basically all the good stuff our bodies need!

If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian consulting with a registered dietitian can play a key role with ensuring you are purchasing, preparing and consuming the right sources for specific nutrients.

Yogi Cameron Alborzian
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

It is common knowledge that many pounds of feed are necessary for producing one pound of beef, and the production of poultry, pork and other animal proteins require significant resources as well. The high amount of feed necessary for producing these proteins is one of several indications of how dense animal protein ultimately is. This density means that we require significant bodily resources to digest and process them.

Why should the use of these bodily resources be significant? The tradition of Ayurveda teaches us that the condition of our health is based on the strength and balance of our digestion. If our digestive system has light, easily digestible foods to process, then the rest of the body's resources are left to maintain the nervous system, the immune system, and other important aspects of our physiology. When we consume animal proteins, our body must tap into bodily resources beyond just our digestive power to process their high density. This means that our nervous system, immune system, and everything else becomes compromised.

Ultimately, the benefit of a vegetarian diet is that eating plant-based foods taxes our digestive system less and this in turn gives the body a greater opportunity to maintain proper health overall. Those who follow a vegetarian diet are less likely to become sick, will have higher energy and will generally feel lighter and better than with a diet consisting of animal protein.

Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist
A vegetarian diet is rich in fiber, vitamins A and C, antioxidants and is lower in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat than non-vegetarian diets. Number of studies show that vegetarian diets may lower the risk of diseases including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cancer and diverticular disease.

To get the most benefits of a vegetarian diet, consult with a registered dietitian that will help you plan an optimum diet with a variety of foods.
Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

A vegetarian diet is often promoted as the most beneficial diet and has been advocated by philosophers such as Plato to political leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi to modern pop icons such as Paul McCartney. There is also considerable scientific research showing the benefits of a vegetarian diet. In fact, it has been shown to be associated with a lower risk of virtually every chronic disease.

For example, numerous population-based studies have shown that vegetarians are nearly 50 percent less likely to die of cancer or heart disease than are non-vegetarians. The vegetarian diet has also been shown to reduce one's chances of developing diabetes, osteoporosis, or high blood pressure or developing kidney stones or gallstones. While each of us authors has been vegetarian at some point in our lives, we now believe that including fish and small amounts of animal foods in the diet leads to a more optimal nutritional intake. Nonetheless, we recognize the central and tremendous importance that plant foods play in an optimal human diet.

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

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Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the most comprehensive and practical guide available to the nutritional benefits and medicinal properties of virtually everything...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.