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More on Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

More on Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet: Main Image
A vegetarian diet may be especially helpful in preventing chronic disease
A study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that vegetarians may have an advantage over nonvegetarians when it comes to protection from dying of heart disease or getting cancer.

Vegetarians have the edge

Research has shown that vegetarians tend to have better health in terms of cholesterol levels and lifestyle habits compared with nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of some diseases such as diabetes and obesity. In this meta-analysis researchers reviewed the data from several studies of vegetarians, which included 124,706 participants, looking for links between a vegetarian diet and risk of death and cancer incidence.

Results showed that vegetarians had a 29% lower rate of death from ischemic heart disease (blockage in the arteries that carry blood to the heart) and 18% lower cancer incidence compared with nonvegetarians. Death from all causes was 9% lower in vegetarians compared with nonvegetarians.

The study authors point out that “High-fat diets are implicated in the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity,” and healthy vegetarian diets tend to be low in saturated fats. But they also caution that more research is needed to understand the full impact of a vegetarian diet on long-term health.

More on being a vegetarian

  • Vegetarian defined. A healthy vegetarian is a person who eats plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits and veggies and includes other sources of protein and other foods rich in nutrients in their diet, but who also does not eat meat, poultry, or fish. Vegans are people who follow a vegetarian diet, but who also avoid foods and beverages that contain animal products such as milk, eggs, and butter.
  • You have options. This study, along with others, suggests that a vegetarian diet may be especially helpful in preventing chronic disease. But don’t worry—if you can’t part with meat, chicken, or fish, diets such as the Mediterranean-style diet have also been linked to health benefits. The most important diet is a healthy and balanced diet. So whether following a vegetarian, Mediterranean, or another diet, it is important to eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables and to get the balance of nutrients needed to optimize health and prevent disease. It’s also important to avoid junk food, excess fat or sugar, and excess alcohol.
  • Talk with a doctor. If you are a vegetarian it is wise to talk with a knowledgeable doctor or nutritionist to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients and protein that you need to stay healthy. This is particularly true for parents who have children on a vegetarian or vegan diet who may need to supplement certain nutrients like vitamin B12 to ensure adequate nutrition. Pregnant and lactating women are other groups of people that should consult with a healthcare professional when considering or following a vegetarian diet.

(Ann Nutr Metab 2012;60:233–40)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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