Going vegetarian?

Think that vegetarian diets are risky or just a passing phase? Not so! According to the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada, a well-planned vegetarian diet can be a healthy alternative to standard meat-based eating styles for all age groups.

In a joint statement, published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, ADA and DC say:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

The statement reaffirms and updates ADA’s position on vegetarian diets. It details the most current science regarding key nutrients and how to obtain them through a vegetarian diet. Numerous health benefits are also cited such as lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.

Approximately 4 percent of Canadian adults and nearly 3 percent of adults in the United States follow vegetarian diets and interest is on the rise, according to the ADA/DC statement. Many restaurants and caterers routinely offer vegetarian meals. Substantial growth in sales of foods attractive to vegetarians has occurred in recent years.

“Vegetarians have been reported to have healthier body weight than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels and lower rates of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon cancer,” says registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Cynthia Sass.

“Planning a healthy vegetarian diet doesn’t need to be complicated, but steps should be taken to ensure the diet is nutrient-dense,” Sass says. “Just as with a meat-based diet, the key to ensuring the body meets all its nutritional needs is to choose a wide variety of foods.”

Sass says the best way to ensure a healthy vegetarian diet is to obtain advice from a nutrition expert, a dietetics professional. “A dietetics professional, such as a registered dietitian, is skilled in educating vegetarian clients about food sources of specific nutrients, menu planning, food purchasing and preparation, and any dietary modifications that may be necessary to meet individual health and lifestyle needs,” Sass says.

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