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Vegetarian Nutrition for Disease Prevention and Management in Adults

Published March 4, 2024

The role of lifestyle behaviors, particularly dietary patterns, is crucial in preventing and managing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and related health issues. The Evidence Analysis Library’s Vegetarian Nutrition project focuses on two aspects: disease management and disease prevention.

In the disease management systematic review, vegetarian dietary patterns, including vegan diets, are recommended for reducing dietary fats and cholesterol while promoting cardiovascular health through the consumption of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. However, poorly planned vegetarian diets may pose risks by limiting essential nutrient intake — potentially increasing CVD risk. New systematic reviews examine the impact of vegetarian diets on disease prevention and management.

For disease prevention, observational studies suggest vegetarian and vegan dietary patterns might lower the risk of certain diseases. An umbrella review of 27 systematic reviews published from 2018 to January 2023 found moderate certainty of evidence supporting the reduction of cardiovascular disease incidence with vegetarian diets. There was low and very low certainty evidence indicating potential benefits, such as reduced CVD mortality, blood pressure, blood lipids, BMI and c-reactive protein concentrations. On the downside, lower bone mineral density, increased fracture risk and lower vitamin B12 and vitamin D concentrations were associated with vegetarian diets, particularly vegan diets.

Another systematic review analyzed 27 randomized controlled trials published from 1998 to May 2023, revealing positive effects of vegetarian diets in reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose in individuals with CVD risk factors. For those with Type 2 diabetes mellitus, vegetarian diets showed benefits in reducing HbA1c and BMI, though evidence on diabetes medication needs was mixed. In adults with established CVD, vegetarian diets exhibited no significant effects on various parameters compared to non-vegetarian diets.

This comprehensive analysis provides insights for nutrition and dietetics practitioners working with people who are interested in or following vegetarian or vegan diets. Learn more from the Academy’s EAL project.

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