A debate among physicians and dieticians has been swirling for a number of years about the safety of vegan or vegetarian diets, especially in adolescents and children. Now the American Dietetic Association has provided an update that, hopefully, will help settle the arguments.
The Los Angeles Times reports this week on the ADA’s recent report by saying, “The American Dietetic Assn. has shown the importance of parents encouraging a balanced diet for their vegetarian children.”
According to the Times, the study found “that as long as vegetarian diets are planned well, they’re safe for people at every stage of life: pregnant and nursing moms, babies, teenagers and just about everyone else.”
The study “was the first to emphasize the benefits of a meatless meal plan,” which it said “may lower rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.”
The study also indicated that, “at least for adults, there is accumulating evidence that a traditional meat-and-potatoes diet is not the healthiest way to eat.”
Here’s the abstract of the report from the ADA:
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.
This article reviews the current data related to key nutrients for vegetarians including protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12.
A vegetarian diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients.
In some cases, supplements or fortified foods can provide useful amounts of important nutrients.
An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes.
The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease.
Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians.
Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.
Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.
The variability of dietary practices among vegetarians makes individual assessment of dietary adequacy essential.
In addition to assessing dietary adequacy, food and nutrition professionals can also play key roles in educating vegetarians about sources of specific nutrients, food purchase and preparation, and dietary modifications to meet their needs.