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Healthy Reasons to Choose a Vegetarian Diet

“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 lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

The above statement is the position statement from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) on vegetarian diets.  The statement is printed in the position paper, Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets which was printed in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109, Issue 7, pages 1266-1282, July 2009.

A healthy vegetarian diet consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. A healthy approach to vegetarianism provides adequate levels of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C, vitamin E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

A vegetarian diet helps lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. Low density lipoproteins (LDLs), known as the bad cholesterol, is 24% lower in vegetarians and 57% lower in strict vegetarians compared to meat eaters. Lower LDL levels may be due to higher intakes of soluble fiber which has been shown to lower LDL and total cholesterol. A vegetarian diet can be lower in saturated fat than a non-vegetarian diet and actually contain no cholesterol if all animal products are eliminated

Nine studies showed consuming five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis was significantly linked to a lower rate of hypertension. Potassium, magnesium and calcium are the key players here.

Approximately 30% of Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarians.  The Adventist Health Study looked at the rates of certain diseases comparing vegetarian members and non-vegetarian members.  There were strong associations between type 2 diabetes and the consumption of red meat and processed meats, e.g., bologna. Consuming green leafy vegetables and fruit (whole fruits, not juice), were linked to less incidence of type 2 diabetes.

The vegetarian Adventists tended to have lower BMIs and less obesity than the non-vegetarian Adventists. This may be due to the higher intake of fiber and less caloric value of vegetarian foods.

The Adventist Health Study also shows vegetarians have a decreased risk for both colorectal and prostate cancer. This may be partially due to the lower body weight of vegetarians as a whole as obesity is a risk factor for certain cancers. There are also protective factors in plant foods, specifically antioxidants, flavonoids and phytochemicals.

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