Vegetarian Diets Can Be A Nutritious, Healthful, Environmentally Sustainable Choice: Updated Position of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

November 28, 2016

CHICAGO – Vegetarian and vegan diets, appropriately planned with the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist, can be nutritious and healthful for people at all stages of life, according to a revised position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

These diets may also decrease risk of chronic disease and are more environmentally sustainable than eating plans rich in animal products, according to the Academy's position paper "Vegetarian Diets," which will be published in the December issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.

"Becoming vegetarian can be beneficial to personal health and the environment," says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Vandana Sheth.

"Well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets containing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can be nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of some chronic diseases. According to the latest research, vegetarians and vegans have lower risk of health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some types of cancer and obesity," Sheth says.

"People who adopt vegetarian diets have lower body mass indexes, better control of blood pressure and blood glucose, less inflammation and lower cholesterol levels compared with non-vegetarians," Sheth says. "Registered dietitian nutritionists can help people who want to follow a vegetarian eating plan in any life stage to make well-informed choices to achieve these benefits."

The position paper updates and reinforces the Academy's 2009 position on vegetarian diets to include evidence that plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets high in animal products. "While the sustainability of some animal products is improving, their production is still associated with greater air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than plant food production," Sheth says.

A large variety of food choices is available to support vegetarian and vegan eating patterns, including whole foods, fortified foods and supplements that contribute such important nutrients as calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

According to the Academy's position, nutrition and dietetics practitioners can play a key role in educating the public on how to plan nutritionally adequate plant-based diets across the lifecycle and to provide information about sources of specific nutrients and foods that are useful in the management of specific health conditions.

The Academy's position paper was written by registered dietitian nutritionists Vesanto Melina, MS, RD; Winston Craig, PhD, MPH, RD; and Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD.

Interviews with registered dietitian nutritionists with expertise in breastfeeding can be arranged by calling 312/899-4769 or emailing [email protected].

###

All registered dietitians are nutritionists – but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The Academy's Board of Directors and Commission on Dietetic Registration have determined that those who hold the credential registered dietitian (RD) may optionally use "registered dietitian nutritionist" (RDN) instead. The two credentials have identical meanings.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy at eatright.org.