Vegetarian and Vegan Diet (cont.)

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What are the benefits of the various kinds of vegetarian and vegan diets?

The health benefits of a vegetarian diet are the number-one reason why people choose to follow this way of eating. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans support the benefit of a vegetarian diet: "Most Americans of all ages eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of grain products, vegetables, and fruits, even though consumption of these foods is associated with a substantially lower risk for many chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer." Large-scale studies including the Adventist Health Study, the Oxford Vegetarian Study, the Health Food Shoppers study, and the Heidelberg Study have shown that overall, vegetarians tend to be slimmer, appear to be in better health, and have a reduced risk of chronic diseases and greater longevity when compared with omnivores.

Some of the other health benefits attributed to following a vegetarian diet are at a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, diverticulosis, renal disease, some cancers (including lung and breast), and gallstones. The reason for these health benefits comes from the foods that are reduced or omitted as well as from the foods that are consumed. A healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and a low consumption of alcohol and tobacco may also play a role in acquiring these benefits.

The similarities in the various kinds of vegetarian diets are the high consumption of fruit, vegetables, soy, nuts, and legumes. Overall, they tend to have a lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and the higher intakes of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, certain minerals, and phytochemicals. Cholesterol is only found in animal foods, so vegan diets are completely cholesterol-free.

There is evidence linking red meat, especially processed meat, with an increased risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Cutting back on the quantity and frequency of red meat consumption can lead to health benefits. Many believe that this is the biggest contributor to the health benefits that are found with the vegetarian diet.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/27/2013


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