A well-planned vegetarian diet can be a healthy alternative to a regular meat-based diet for all age groups, says a statement from the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada published this week.
'It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases', say the organisations in this month's Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
The statement both reaffirms ADA's support for vegetarian diets and also highlights the numerous health benefits from eating less saturated fat and cholesterol and more carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.
Around 4 per cent of Canadian adults and nearly 3 per cent of adults in the United States follow vegetarian diets and interest is on the rise, according to the ADA/DC statement. There has been substantial growth in sales of foods attractive to vegetarians in recent years.
"Vegetarians have been reported to have healthier body weight than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels and lower rates of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon cancer," says registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Cynthia Sass.
"Planning a healthy vegetarian diet doesn't need to be complicated, but steps should be taken to ensure the diet is nutrient-dense. Just as with a meat-based diet, the key to ensuring the body meets all its nutritional needs is to choose a wide variety of foods," she added.
The statement warns that some vegans may have intakes for vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and occasionally riboflavin that are lower than recommended. However it adds that plant protein can sufficiently meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met.
'Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal,' suggests the ADA statement, although it adds that the quality of plant proteins needs to be considered as they vary.
The report also provides detail on the impact of vegetarianism throughout the life cycle and sources of nutrients lacking in the typical vegetarian diet.