Interest in vegetarianism appears to be increasing, with many restaurants and college foodservices offering vegetarian meals routinely. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat, fish or fowl. Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
The key nutrients for vegetarians include protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids and iodine. In some cases, use of fortified foods or supplements can be helpful in meeting recommendations for individual nutrients. Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.
About three dozen plant foods have been identified as possessing cancer-protective properties. These include cruciferous vegetables, umbelliferous vegetables and herbs, other fruits and vegetables, beans, flaxseed, many nuts, and various seasoning herbs. These foods and vegetables contain a host of chemicals that act as prevention against diseases related to cancer, heart, blood and so on.