In a major victory for advocates of vegan, vegetarian, or predominantly plant-based diets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has issued a statement supporting the popular diet choice.
“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 for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” the group wrote in its announcement. “These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
While recently gaining popularity among celebrities, politicians, and athletes, vegan and vegetarian diets have long been criticized as being nutritionally inadequate and even harmful. Recent efforts in Italy aimed to make feeding children a vegan diet a crime.
But according to AND, the largest group of nutritionists in the U.S., balanced plant-based diets are indeed healthful and may help prevent the development of life-threatening diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancers.
The benefits, says AND, come by way of the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables—the default ingredients for most people eating a balanced vegan diet. The vegan diet is also naturally lower in saturated fats, which can reduce the risk of increasing bad cholesterol levels.
The group also noted that plant-based diets are better for the planet, relying on fewer natural resources than raising livestock animals for food, which in a roundabout way, is also a boon to health. Climate change predictions point to numerous potential hazards including a compromised food supply, lower nutritional profile in key foods, and a rise in harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
But, says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a balanced plant-based diet is they key to living a healthy lifestyle.
“Any diet that is not well planned and balanced can have negative side effects,” Sheth told Reuters.
“Just because foods are plant based doesn’t automatically make them healthy,” Sheth added. “For instance, pastries, cookies, fried and salty foods may be vegan but don’t really provide much in terms of nutritional value.”
Additional supplementation for nutrients including B-12 and vitamin D may be necessary on a vegan diet.
Fewer than five percent of Americans identify as vegan or vegetarian, but the significant recent growth in meat, dairy, and egg alternatives indicates a growing mainstream interest in plant-based ingredients—more people are eager to eat healthier, and support diet choices that are better for the environment. And, without question, there’s a demand for plant-based foods because they taste delicious.
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