Plant-Based Nutrition

Plant-Based Nutrition: Overview

A vegetarian diet has been advocated by everyone from philosophers such as Plato and Nietzsche, to political leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi, to modern pop icons such as Paul McCartney and Bob Marley.  Science is also on the side of vegetarianism.  A multitude of studies have proven the health benefits of a vegetarian diet to be remarkable.

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"Vegetarian" is defined as avoiding all animal flesh, including fish and poultry.  Vegetarians who avoid flesh, but do eat animal products such as cheese, milk, and eggs, are ovo-lacto-vegetarians (ovo = egg; lacto = milk, cheese, etc.).  The ranks of those who eschew all animal products are rapidly growing; these people are referred to as pure vegetarians or vegans.  Scientific research shows that ovo-lacto-vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, and vegans are the healthiest overall.

Only 20% of Americans eat at least the recommended 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables.  In it's statement of position on the vegetarian diet [13], the American Dietetic Association states:

  • "Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer.  Vegetarian diets, like all diets, need to be planned appropriately to be nutritionally adequate."
  • "It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."

Many contemplating conversion to a vegan diet (one completely free of animal products) are concerned about its viability and safety, particularly for children.  Given the many health benefits of such a diet, does the evidence show that vegan diets do indeed meet nutritional needs? The answer is clearly yes.  According to the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian diets [1] "Appropriately planned vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth."

In one study, pediatric developmental tests in vegetarian children indicated mental age advanced over a year beyond chronological age, and mean IQ was well above average (with an average of 116 points), providing reassurance that brain development is normal.[2] Questions about the adequacy of plant-based diets were raised by Dagnelie [3] and Dwyer [4] who observed poor growth in children following a strict macrobiotic diet.  The feeding practices of macrobiotic families can vary greatly from those of vegan families.  Some very strict macrobiotic diets may lack adequate calories due to fat restrictions, and these diets have been modified more recently to permit the inclusion of somewhat more fat, such as is found in seeds and nuts.[5]

Instructions

Most parents find it easy to plan a vegan diet that is adequate in protein, calories, vitamins and minerals.  Following a vegan diet has been made easier in recent years since vegetarian products fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 are available in most food stores: vegetarian hot dogs, burgers, fortified soy and rice milks, vegetarian deli slices, and other meat analogs are readily available.  Calorie, protein, and all other nutrient needs can be easily met by a vegan diet, supplemented with vitamin B12.

  • Calcium Some of the best vegan sources are fortified soy or rice milk, fortified cranberry, orange, or apple juice, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, tofu processed with calcium sulfate, and tempeh.  Calcium absorption from these foods has been shown to be excellent [6].  It should be noted that cows obtain all the calcium they require for their large frames, offspring and milk for humans from a very limited 'vegan' diet.
  • Vitamin D Vitamin D is normally produced within the body after sunlight exposure to the skin.  If children do not get regular sun exposure or live in northern areas, fortified foods and supplements (such as any common multivitamin) are available.
  • Protein A diet drawn from varied plant sources easily satisfies protein requirements, providing all essential amino acids, even without intentional combining or "protein complementing" as long as calorie intake is also adequate.  Good protein sources include cooked beans, tofu, soy yogurt, tempeh, seitan, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.  "Soy protein has been shown to be nutritionally equivalent in protein value to proteins of animal origin and, thus, can serve as the sole source of protein intake if desired." [13]
  • Calories Concern has been expressed that the increased bulk provided by certain foods in the vegan diet will cause a child to feel full before he has consumed enough calories.  Including some refined grain products and peeled, cooked vegetables can reduce the bulkiness of meals.  Nuts and seed butters, avocados, dried fruits, and added fats (e.g., vegetable oils) can provide additional concentrated calories without bulk.
  • Vitamin B12 Produced by microorganisms in the small intestines of humans and animals, vitamin B12 made by humans is not well absorbed and retained.  Plant foods contain little of this nutrient.  However, it can be easily obtained from vitamin B12 fortified breakfast cereals and soymilk, nutritional yeast, B12 fortified meat analogs, or any common multivitamin.  When reading labels, look for the words "cyanocobalamin" or "cobalamin" in the ingredient list.  These are the most absorbable forms of vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in irreversible nerve deterioration.
  • Iron Diets consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts provide adequate iron.[7-12] Consuming foods rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, with iron-rich foods enhances the absorption of iron.  Some foods are naturally rich in both iron and vitamin C, such as broccoli, Swiss chard, and other dark green leafy vegetables.  Other good iron sources include iron-fortified cereals, enriched bread, pasta, rice, soybeans, chickpeas, and blackstrap molasses.  Dairy products are extremely low in iron and may interfere with iron balance, especially in very small children.
  • Zinc Good sources include legumes, nuts, and zinc fortified breakfast cereals.

References & Further Information

  1. Messina VK, Burke KI.  Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.  J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97:1317-21
  2. Dwyer JT, Miller LG, Arduino NL, et al.  Mental age and I.Q.  of predominately vegetarian children.  J Am Dietetic Assoc 1980;76:142-7
  3. Dagnelie PC, van Staveren WA, Vergote FJVRA, et al.  Nutritional status of infants aged 4 to 18 months on macrobiotic diets and matched omnivorous control infants: a population-based mixed-longitudinal study.  II.  Growth and psychomotor development.  Eur J Clin Nutr 1989;43:325-38
  4. Dwyer JF, Andrew EM, Berkey C, Valadian I, Reed RB.  Growth in "new" vegetarian preschool children using the Jenss-Bayley curve fitting technique.  Am J Clin Nutr 1983;37:815-27
  5. Kushi M, Kushi A.  Macrobiotic Child Care and Family Health.  Tokyo, Japan: Japan Publications; 1986
  6. Weaver CM, Plawecki KL.  Dietary calcium: adequacy of a vegetarian diet.  Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(suppl):1238S-41S
  7. Munoz JM.  Fiber and diabetes.  Diabetes Care 1984;7:297-300
  8. Crane MG, Sample CJ.  Regression of diabetic neuropathy on total vegetarian (vegan) diet.  J Nutr Med 1995, in press
  9. Roy MS, Stables G, Collier B, Roy A, Bou E.  Nutritional factors in diabetics with and without retinopathy.  Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 50:728-30
  10. Schirmer BD, Dix J.  Cost effectiveness of laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  J Laparoendoscopic Surg 1992;2:145-50
  11. McIntyre RC, Zoeter MA, Weil KC, Cohen MM.  A comparison of outcome and cost of open vs. laparoscopic cholecystectomy.  J Laparoscopic Surg 1992;2:143-50
  12. Pixley F, Wilson D, McPherson K, Mann J.  Effect of vegetarianism on development of gallstones in women.  Br Med J 1985;291:11-12
  13. ADA Position Statement, J Am Diet Assoc.  1997;97: pp.1317-21

On This Page

Plant-Based Nutrition:

Plant-Based Nutrition can help with the following:

Allergy

Allergy to Cow's Milk

Vegan foods, which can be bought at health food stores and many other places, are made without any animal products, such as eggs or milk.  Be careful to read the labels of soy cheeses, though.  They may say "milk-free," but they could contain milk protein.  For your sweet tooth, soy- or rice-based frozen desserts, sorbets, and puddings are good substitutes for ice cream, as are ice pops.  For baking, milk substitutes work as well as milk and some even come out better.  Dairy-free margarine works as well as butter for recipes and spreading on a bagel.  You might also want to look for foods labeled "parve" or "pareve": they are usually made without milk products according to kosher dietary laws.  Kosher foods that are marked with a "D" are dairy and shouldn't be eaten.  Those marked with "D.E." were made using dairy equipment and shouldn't be risked either.

Allergic Rhinitis / Hay Fever

Many of the diet and lifestyle changes recommended against allergies are a natural consequence of adhering to a more animal-free lifestyle: avoiding saturated fats (meats and dairy products), eggs, shellfish; consuming fresh fruits and vegetables (be careful of citrus in particular though), whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fresh juices; using synthetic materials such as acrylic instead of animal products such as wool.

Autoimmune

Lupus, SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)

Animal-based proteins (beef and milk) seem to be the prime offenders in aggravating the symptoms of Lupus.  However, certain plant-based proteins appear also to be.  These include soy beans, corn, spinach and carrots.  [Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 1982;17: pp.417-24]

Alfalfa sprouts and legumes, to a lesser extent, should also be avoided as the constituent L-canavanine causes SLE-like diseases in primates.  [Acta Medica Scandinavica 1984;216: pp. 67-274] Peas and lima beans are alright to eat in this regard.

Lupus flare-ups have also been reported after the ingestion of large amounts of foods containing psoralens (celery, celery salt, parsnips and figs).

Multiple Sclerosis

A vegan/vegetarian diet satisfies several of the requirements set out in the Swank Diet for Multiple Sclerosis.

Circulation

Atherosclerosis

A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is recommended, as is an increase fiber (especially water-soluble fibers), fruits, vegetables, and vegetarian sources of protein.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

The prevalence of hypertension among vegetarians is about one-third to one-half that of non-vegetarians [1-3].  A study of Caucasian Seventh-day Adventists found hypertension in 22% of omnivores, but only 7% of vegetarians.  Among African Americans, the prevalence was 44% of omnivores and 18% of vegetarians [3].  Adopting a vegetarian diet significantly lowers blood pressure in both normal and hypertensive individuals [4-8].

  1. Ophir O, Peer G, Gilad J, Blum M, Aviram A.  Low blood pressure in vegetarians: the possible role of potassium.  Am J Clin Nutr 1983;37: pp.755-62
  2. Melby CL, Hyner GC, Zoog B.  blood pressure in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a cross-sectional analysis.  Nutr Res 1985;5: pp.1077-82
  3. Melby CL, Goldflies DG, Hyner GC, Lyle RM.  Relation between vegetarian/nonvegetarian diets and blood pressure in black and white adults.  Am J Publ Health 1989;79: pp.1283-8
  4. Rouse IL, Armstrong BK, Beilin LJ, Vandongen R.  Blood-pressure-lowering effect of a vegetarian diet: controlled trial in normotensive subjects.  Lancet 1983;1: pp.5-10
  5. Rouse IL, Belin LJ, Mahoney DP, et al.  Nutrient intake, blood pressure, serum and urinary prostaglandins and serum thromboxane B2 in a controlled trial with a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.  J Hypertension 1986;4: pp.241-50
  6. Margetts BM, Beilin LJ, Armstrong BK, Vandongen R.  A randomized controlled trial of a vegetarian diet in the treatment of mild hypertension.  Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 1985:12: pp.263-6
  7. Margetts BM, Beilin LJ, Vandongen R, Armstrong BK.  Vegetarian diet in mild hypertension: a randomized controlled trial.  Br Med J 1986;293: pp.1468-71
  8. Lindahl O, Lindwall L, Spangberg A, Stenram A, Ockerman PA.  A vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of hypertension.  Br J Nutr 1984;52: pp.11-20
Intermittent Claudication

Important dietary changes for preventing atherosclerosis (and, consequently, intermittent claudication) include avoiding meat and dairy fat, increasing fiber, and possibly avoiding foods containing trans fatty acids.

Diet

Digestion

Constipation

A vegetarian diet is generally higher in fiber than non-vegetarian diets.  Constipation amongst those on vegan and raw-food diets is extremely rare.

Hormones

Low Sex Hormone Binding Globulin

It has been observed that a vegetarian diet is associated with high plasma levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, reducing clearance of sex hormones and probably risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Histadelia (Histamine High)

Nutritionists recommend a low-protein, high complex carbohydrate diet.  Histidine, which is more common in animal proteins, should be avoided as it can be converted into histamine.

Immunity

Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome

See the link between Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia and Raw Food Diet.

Lab Values

High Total Cholesterol

Cholesterol levels are much lower in vegetarians.[1-4] Vegetarian diets reduce serum cholesterol levels to a much greater degree than is achieved with the National Cholesterol Education Program Step Two diet.[5-8] In one study published in The Lancet [7] total cholesterol in those following a vegetarian diet for 12 months decreased by 24.3%.

  1. West RO, Hayes OB.  Diet and serum cholesterol levels: a comparison between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in a Seventh-day Adventist group.  Am J Clin Nutr 1968;21:853-62
  2. Sacks FM, Ornish D, Rosner B, McLanahan S, Castelli WP, Kass EH.  Plasma lipoprotein levels in vegetarians: the effect of ingestion of fats from dairy products.  JAMA 1985;254:1337-41
  3. Fisher M, Levine PH, Weiner B, et al.  The effect of vegetarian diets on plasma lipid and platelet levels.  Arch Inter Med 1986;146:1193-7
  4. Burslem J, Schonfeld G, Howald M, Weidman SW, Miller JP.  Plasma apoprotein and lipoprotein lipid levels in vegetarians.  Metabolism 1978;27:711-9
  5. Cooper RS, Goldberg RB, Trevisan M, et al.  The selective lowering effect of vegetarianism on low density lipoproteins in a cross-over experiment.  Atherosclerosis 1982;44:293-305
  6. Kestin M, Rouse IL, Correll RA, Nestel PJ.  Cardiovascular disease risk factors in free-living men: Comparison of two prudent diets, one based on lacto-ovo-vegetarianism and the other allowing lean meat.  Am J Clin Nutr 1989;50:280-7
  7. Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al.  Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 1990;336:129-133
  8. Hunninghake DB, Stein EA, Dujovne CA, et al.  The efficacy of intensive dietary therapy alone or combined with lovastatin in out patients with hypercholesterolemia.  New Engl J Med 1993;328:1213-9

The ratio of HDL- to total-cholesterol has been shown to be significantly lower in vegans as compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarians.

Metabolic

Problems Caused By Being Overweight

Permanent weight control is difficult to achieve.  Between 95% and 98% of repeat dieters fail, regaining the weight that they initially lose.  What about the other 2-5%? In her book "Eating Thin for Life," award winning journalist and dietician Anne Fletcher delved into the habits of a few hundred people who had not only lost an average of 64 pounds but also maintained that loss for an average of 11 years.  What did she find? "Basically, they're eating the opposite of a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet," Fletcher reported.  When she asked them to describe their eating habits, the top response was "low-fat" followed by "eating less meat." These dieters with long-term success also told her they ate "more fruits and vegetables."

Recent research supports this notion.  One research study showed that significant weight loss can be triggered by just feeding people extra fruit – 3 added apples or pears a day [Nutrition 19 (2003): p.253].  Harvard studied 75,000 women for a decade and the results suggest that the more fruits and vegetables women eat the less likely they will become obese [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70 (1999): p.412].  A 2004 review of the available research suggests that in general "increasing fruit and vegetable intake may be an important strategy for weight loss." [Nutrition Reviews 62 (2004): p.1]

The results of the biggest study on diet and obesity to date was released in 2003, comparing over a thousand vegans to tens of thousands of meat-eaters, and lacto-ovo vegetarians [International Journal of Obesity 27 (2003): p.728].  The meat-eaters were on average significantly heavier than the vegetarians, who were significantly heavier than the vegans.  Even after controlling for exercise and smoking and other nondietary factors, vegans came out slimmest in every age group: fewer than 2% of vegans were obese.  In a snapshot of the diets of 10,000 Americans, those eating vegetarian were slimmest whereas those eating the fewest carbs in the sample weighed the most.  [Journal of the American Dietetics Association 1010 (2001): p.411]

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute followed over 75,000 people for ten years to find out which behaviors were associated with weight loss and weight gain.  The one dietary behavior most associated with an expanding waistline was high meat consumption and the dietary behavior most strongly associated with a loss of abdominal fat was high vegetable consumption.  Even after controlling for other factors, men and women who ate more than a serving of meat per day seemed to be 50% more likely to suffer an increase in abdominal obesity than those who ate meat just a few times a week.  The researchers conclude: "Our analysis has identified several easily described behaviors [such as reducing meat intake to less than three servings per week and jogging a few hours every week] that, if widely adopted, might help reverse recent increases in adult overweight... Increases in vegetable consumption might reduce abdominal obesity even further." [American Journal of Public Health 87 (1997): p.747]

Obesity is a major contributor to many serious illnesses, and is much less common among vegetarians, compared to the general population.  Vegetarians are, on average, about 10% leaner than omnivores.

  1. Pixley F, Wilson D, McPherson K, Mann J.  Effect of vegetarianism on development of gallstones in women.  Br Med J 1985;291: pp.11-2
  2. Frentzel-Beyme R, Claude J, Eilber U.  Mortality among German vegetarians: first results after five years of follow-up.  Nutr Cancer 1988;11: pp.117-26
  3. Melby CL, Hyner GC, Zoog B.  blood pressure in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a cross-sectional analysis.  Nutr Res 1985;5: pp.1077-82
  4. Melby CL, Goldflies DG, Hyner GC, Lyle RM.  Relation between vegetarian/nonvegetarian diets and blood pressure in black and white adults.  Am J Publ Health 1989;79: pp.1283-8
  5. Sacks FM, Ornish D, Rosner B, McLanahan S, Castelli WP, Kass EH.  Plasma lipoprotein levels in vegetarians: the effect of ingestion of fats from dairy products.  JAMA 1985;254: pp.1337-41
  6. Frentzel-Beyme R, Claude J, Eilber U.  Mortality among German vegetarians: first results after five years of follow-up.  Nutr Cancer 1988;11: pp.117-26
  7. Burr ML, Batese J, Fehily AM, Leger AS.  Plasma cholesterol and blood pressure in vegetarians.  J Human Nutr 1981;35: pp.437-41
  8. Rouse IL, Armstrong BK, Beilin LJ, Vandongen R.  Vegetarian diet, blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.  Aust NZ J Med 1984;14: pp.439-43
Migraine/Tension Headaches

When migraine and tension headache patients are placed on low-protein, natural plant-based diets, with no refined sweets of any type, they often recover within a month.

Musculo-Skeletal

Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

Reduce animal protein consumption.  For a variety of reasons, animal protein causes severe bone deterioration.

A study published in the January, 2001 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the diets of 1,035 women, particularly focusing on the protein intake from animal and vegetable products.  Deborah Sellmeyer, M.D., found that animal protein increases bone loss.  In her study, women with a high animal-to-vegetable protein ratio experienced an increased rate of femoral neck bone loss.  A high animal-to-vegetable protein ratio was also associated with an increased risk of hip fracture.  Dr. Sellmeyer states: "Sulfur-containing amino acids in protein-containing foods are metabolized to sulfuric acid.  Animal foods provide predominantly acid precursors.  Acidosis stimulates osteoclastic activity and inhibits osteoblast activity."

A 1994 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that when volunteers are switched from a typical American diet to a diet eliminating animal proteins, calcium losses were reduced to less than half of baseline values.  [Remer T, Manz F.  Estimation of the renal net acid excretion by adults consuming diets containing variable amounts of protein.  Am Clin Nutr 1994;59:1356-61]

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Researchers in one study found that participants who ate the greatest number of servings of cooked vegetables were about 75% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than those who reported eating the fewest servings.  [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: November 1999;70: pp.1077-82]

"... 43 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, those assigned to a vegan diet... had improvement in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms." [British J Rheumatology, 36(1) 1997]

Gout / Hyperuricemia

Preferably no meat should be eaten as it is rich in uric acid forming components.  Raw fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts are highly recommended.

Organ Health

Diabetes Type II

(Reuters, July 27, 2006) "People who ate a low-fat vegan diet, cutting out all meat and dairy, lowered their blood sugar more and lost more weight than people on a standard American Diabetes Association diet... They lowered their cholesterol more and ended up with better kidney function, according to the report published in Diabetes Care, a journal published by the American Diabetes Association."

Dr. Neal Barnard's team and colleagues at George Washington University, the University of Toronto and the University of North Carolina tested 99 people with type-2 diabetes, assigning them randomly to either a low-fat, low-sugar vegan diet or the standard American Diabetes Association diet.  After 22 weeks on the diet, 43% of those on the vegan diet and 26% of those on the standard diet were either able to stop taking some of their drugs such as insulin or glucose-control medications, or lowered the doses.  The vegan dieters lost 14 pounds (6.5 kg) on average while the diabetes association dieters lost 6.8 pounds (3.1 kg).  An important level of glucose control called a1c fell on average by 1.23 points in the vegan group and by 0.38 in the group on the standard diet.

Consequences of Gallbladder Surgery

After removal of the gallbladder, a healthy low-fat, plant-food based (high-fiber) diet is very important.

Chronic Renal Insufficiency

A low protein diet is important in reducing the processing responsibilities of compromised kidneys.

Hepatitis

A more vegetarian diet is naturally lower in saturated fats (meat and dairy products) and higher in grains, vegetables, fruits, vegetable proteins (legumes such as soy), and essential fatty acids (cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds) that are all recommended for Hepatitis.  Foods that support the liver are beets, artichokes, yams, onions, garlic, green leafy vegetables, apples, and lemons.

Respiratory

Asthma

A long-term trial of a vegan diet (elimination of all animal products) provided significant improvement in 92% of the 25 patients who completed the study.  Drinking water was limited to spring water (chlorinated tap water was prohibited), and coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and salt were excluded.  [Journal of Asthma 1985; 22:44, p.13]

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Plant-Based Nutrition can help prevent the following:

Aging

Parkinson's Disease

Diets high in vitamin C and beta-carotene provide significant protection against Parkinson's disease.  American researchers have concluded that a high intake of animal fats is associated with a five-fold increase risk.

Cataracts

In a study of nurses who ate spinach or other leafy greens at least 5 times a week, it was found they had a 47-65% lower risk of cataracts.

Circulation

Stroke

A low incidence of cerebrovascular disease was associated with geographical regions where fresh fruit and vegetable consumption (and therefore increased potassium) was high.  [Low fruits and vegetables, high-meat diet increase cerebrovascular event risk.  Medical Tribune March 10, 1997:26]

Varicose Veins

Constipation is one of the leading causes of varicose veins, although it may initially be hard to see the connection.  Constipation may restrict the blood as it returns to the torso through the deep veins in the legs.  Straining to have a bowel movement closes off these veins.  As the blood backs up it takes another course through superficial veins, thus the blue streaks in the legs.  A diet low in fat and high in fiber is best for promoting regularity: reorganize your diet to include plenty of low-fat foods, grains, fresh fruit and vegetables.  A diet tending towards vegan/raw-food generally satisfies all these requirements; vegetarians should watch their fat intake.

Coronary Disease / Heart Attack

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant substances, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids, which protect cells against oxidative damage, which is related to cancer risk and other health problems.[1] The multitude of phytochemicals found in various fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts are thought to protect against heart disease and cancer.[2]

  1. Jacob RA, Burri BJ.  Oxidative damage and defense.  Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:985S-90S
  2. Craig WJ.  Phytochemicals: guardians of our health.  J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97:S199-S204

Digestion

Heartburn / GERD / Acid Reflux

Eating a low-fat plant-based diet in small frequent meals is one of the best ways to reduce heartburn.

Organ Health

Gallbladder Disease

In a study published in the British Medical Journal, it was shown that vegetarian women had a much lower incidence of gallstones than non-vegetarian women.  Of the 632 non-vegetarians, overall occurrence of gallstones was 25%.  Vegetarians had only half as many gallstone problems, with 12% being found to have gallstones.

Reproductive

Endometriosis

A study in July, 2004 showed that consumption of fresh fruits and green vegetables was associated with decreased risk of developing endometriosis, and preventing re-occurrence.

Tumors, Malignant

Stomach Cancer

An October, 2001 study by Yale School of Medicine researchers has found that a diet high in cholesterol, animal protein and vitamin B12 is linked to increased risk of a specific type of esophageal and stomach cancer, known as adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and gastric cardia, that has been increasing rapidly.  The number of cases increased by 300% between the mid-1970s and 2000, according to lead author Susan Mayne, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine, and associate director of the Yale Cancer Center.

The researchers found that plant-based nutrients such as dietary fiber, dietary beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin C and vitamin B6 were associated with lower risk of these kinds of cancers.

"We found that many animal-based nutrients found in foods of animal origin are strongly associated with risk of developing these types of cancers and we were able to identify nutrients that presumably would be protective," said Mayne.  "We also found that regular users of vitamin C supplements were at significantly lower risk of stomach cancer."

"Our results suggest that prevention strategies for these cancers should emphasize increased consumption of plant foods, decreased consumption of foods of animal origin with the possible exception of dairy products, and control of obesity."

Ovarian Cancer

The intake of vegetable fiber, but not of fruit or cereal fiber, was found to be negatively associated with risk of ovarian cancer, with a 37% decrease in the odds for each 10gm per day addition.  [Am J Epidemiol 139(11): S37, 1994]

Consumption of foods containing beta-carotene by 71 women with epithelial cancer of the ovary and 141 matched controls was investigated.  Consumption of carrots was found to decrease risk.  [Nutr Cancer 15: pp.239-47, 1991]

Cancer, General

"35 percent of cancer deaths may be related to diet." [The National Cancer Institute booklet "Diet, Nutrition, & Cancer Prevention: A Guide to Food Choices"]

Cancer rates for vegetarians are 25 to 50% below population averages, even after controlling for smoking, body mass index, and socioeconomic status.[1,2] Vegans show even better results.  One study found that people who include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables in their daily diets have lower rates of cancers of the lung, breast, colon, bladder, stomach, mouth, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, and cervix compared to people who avoid such foods.[3]

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant substances, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids, which protect cells against oxidative damage, which is related to cancer risk and other health problems.[4] The multitude of phytochemicals found in various fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts are thought to protect against heart disease and cancer.[5]

  1. Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U.  Mortality pattern of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up.  Epidemiology 1992;3:395-401
  2. Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K.  Risk of death from cancer and ischemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters.  Brit Med J 1994;308:1667-70
  3. Block G.  Epidemiologic evidence regarding vitamin C and cancer.  Am J Clin Nutr 1991;54:1310S-4S
  4. Jacob RA, Burri BJ.  Oxidative damage and defense.  Am J Clin Nutr 1996;63:985S-90S
  5. Craig WJ.  Phytochemicals: guardians of our health.  J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97:S199-S204
Breast Cancer

In the Nurses' Health Study, beta carotene proved protective against breast cancer for more than 87,000 women.  Beta carotene both in supplement form and in foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables should be included in your diet if you are interested in breast cancer prevention.

Regarding children, plant-based diets may encourage a later menarche (beginning of the menstrual function), which has been shown to be associated with reduced risk of breast cancer in epidemiologic studies.[1, 2]

  1. de Ridder CM, Thijssen JHH, Vant Veer P, et al.  Dietary habits, sexual maturation, and plasma hormones in pubertal girls: a longitudinal study.  Am J Clin Nutr 1991;54:805-13
  2. Beaton GH, Bengoa JM.  WHO monograph.  1976;62:500-19
Colon Cancer

Diets high in fiber-rich foods may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.  [The National Cancer Institute booklet "Diet, Nutrition, & Cancer Prevention: A Guide to Food Choices"]

Laryngeal Cancer

See the link between Cancer, General and Vegetarian/Vegan Diet.

Pancreatic Cancer

Diets high in meats, fried foods and nitrosamines may increase the risk, while diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

A high red meat and animal fat intake is associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in older women.

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KEY

May be useful: may help with; may help prevent
May be useful:
may help with; may help prevent
Moderately useful: often helps with; often prevents
Moderately useful:
often helps with; often prevents
Very useful: is highly recommended for; usually prevents
Very useful:
is highly recommended for; usually prevents