Vegetarian and Vegan Diet

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View the Fat-Fighting Foods Slideshow

Quick GuideVegetarian Diet: Becoming a Vegetarian

Vegetarian Diet: Becoming a Vegetarian

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 4/8/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Weight Loss/Healthy Living Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors