- Plant-based diets offer health benefits such as reduced risks for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
- Vegetarian diets have a smaller environmental impact than meat-based ones, using fewer resources like land, water, and fuel for production.
- Contrary to common misconceptions, plant-based diets can be nutritionally balanced and suitable for all ages, including children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and athletes.
- Vegetarians and vegans should be mindful of their vitamin B12 intake, since the nutrient is mostly found in animal products. Supplements or fortified foods can be helpful.
- Transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle can be eased with the help of a registered dietitian and gradual changes, such as incorporating more plant-based foods in meals.
According to updated information by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), vegetarian diets benefit both people of all ages and the environment.
The Health Perks of Plant-Based Diets
Research findings indicate that a vegetarian lifestyle can lower risks for obesity and conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. This includes even vegans who by conviction abstain not only from meat and fish, but all animal products, including dairy.
The Environmental Impact
The environmental advantages of vegetarianism were highlighted in the update as it uses fewer resources – land, water, fuel, and fertilizer – to produce plant foods such as kidney beans in comparison to meat. Susan Levin, a notable nutritional educator, asserted that “Vegetarian diets leave a lighter carbon footprint.”
The environmental side was included because of increasing evidence showing that plant-based nourishment is less harmful to the planet, as Levin points out, “The evidence has become really hard to ignore.”
Plant-Based Diets Suitable for All Ages
A critical point underlined by AND is that vegetarian diets can be safe and healthy for individuals of any age. Despite lingering misconceptions that plant-based meals may not be suitable for children, research has shown that children on vegetarian diets consume more fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets and salty snacks, and are less prone to obesity or overweight issues.
Pregnant and lactating women, as well as athletes and the elderly, can also safely follow vegetarian or vegan diets, the report adds.
Misconceptions and Nutritional Considerations of Plant-Based Diets
A registered dietitian, Connie Diekman, emphasized that plant-based nutrition can be nutritionally balanced as they are now incorporated into common diet recommendations. She notes that a diet can only be as beneficial as the food choices made, thus a variety of whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds should be consumed.
One nutrient vegetarians and vegans need to be mindful of is vitamin B12, which is only present in animal products. AND suggests vegans need a vitamin B12 supplement, and vegetarians could benefit from B12-fortified foods or supplements if dairy intake isn’t enough.
Contrary to the common myth, vegetarians can adequately meet their needs for nutrients such as protein, calcium, and iron. As Levin advises, “If you’re consuming enough calories, you will get enough protein.”
Guide to a Vegetarian Lifestyle
Transitioning to a vegetarian diet is made easier with the assistance of a registered dietitian. Those unwilling to forego meat can also adopt healthier habits by incorporating more plant-based foods into their diet.
Levin emphasized that vegetarian diets can be affordable and the necessary ingredients are often readily available at local grocery stores. As she stated, “The food does not have to be organic, or fresh. You can use canned beans and frozen vegetables.”
Potential Health Benefits
Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans generally weigh less, have lower cholesterol levels compared to meat-eaters, and are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. This, according to Levin, is equivalent to “a pill that did all of that,” drawing attention to the profound impact of dietary choices on health outcomes.
More information about structuring a healthy vegetarian diet can be found here.