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Vegetarian Diets May Help in Chronic Disease Prevention and Treatment

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The position paper draws on results from ADA's evidence analysis process and information from the ADA Evidence Analysis Library to show vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. Additionally, an evidence-based review showed a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

"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."

The revised position paper incorporates new topics and additional information on key nutrients for vegetarians, vegetarian diets in the life cycle and the use of vegetarian diets in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.

ADA's position, published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents the Association's official stance on vegetarian diets.

"Vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle," according to ADA's position. "There are many reasons for the rising interest in vegetarian diets. The number of vegetarians in the United States is expected to increase over the next decade."

Vegetarian diets are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, according to ADA's position. "Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet."

A section in ADA's paper on vegetarian diets and cancer has been significantly expanded to provide details on cancer-protective factors in vegetarian diets. An expanded section on osteoporosis includes roles of fruits, vegetables, soy products, protein, calcium, vitamins D and K and potassium in bone health.

"Registered dietitians can provide information about key nutrients, modify vegetarian diets to meet the needs of those with dietary restrictions due to disease or allergies and supply guidelines to meet needs of clients in different areas of the life cycle," the authors said.

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