Is a vegan or vegetarian diet the healthiest diet you can follow? Researchers, doctors, celebrities and the health conscious routinely argue its pluses and minuses… it can be very confusing! Relax, and allow the following 10 facts outline some of the definitive benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
1. Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Diseases
Vegetarians experience chronic diseases less frequently than their non-vegetarian counterparts, according to one recent cross sectional study. Researchers compared responses from 97 vegetarians and 97 non-vegetarians. Significant differences existed between the two groups. Overall, the vegetarian group reported fewer instances of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and obesity. 
2. Greater Protection From Diabetes
A multi year study of over 40,000 respondents included vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Based on the responses, diabetes occurred 4x more frequently in non-vegetarians than vegans, and twice as often as vegetarians who consume dairy. Overall, vegetarian-centered diets provided greater protection against diabetes for all respondents, regardless of ethnicity. 
3. Supports A Healthy Body Weight
Researchers have not been able to connect the diet of vegans and vegetarians to weight loss. However, lifestyle choices associated with the conscious decision to pursue a vegetarian diet have shown to lead to a lower BMI and reduced weight gain.  Ultimately a vegan or vegetarian diet requires choice, effort and managing a diet — all essential components of maintaining healthy body weight.
4. Reduce Your Risk of Heart Diseases
A diet full of vegetables is an excellent source of anti-oxidants and may support a significantly reduced risk of heart disease. A study evaluated the incidence of heart disease in men and women from around the world and found that vegetarians enjoyed lower mortality rates from heart disease.  Another British study of more than 40,000 men and women identified a 32% lower risk of heart disease among those following a vegetarian diet. As an added bonus, they also enjoyed lower blood pressure. 
5. May Help Reduce Cancer Risks
The higher consumption of antioxidants which protects the heart also offers protective effects against cancer. The massive Adventist Health Study-2 looked at rates of cancer among 69,000+ participants. Lacto, pesco, and semi-vegetarians and vegans had a statistically significant lower rate of cancer than those who consumed meat regularly. Interestingly, a vegan diet protected against female specific cancers, while a lacto-vegetarian diet reported greater protection against lower digestive tract cancers. 
6. Supports the Thyroid
Compared to other diets, and even vegetarian diets, a vegan diet tends to offer greater protection against hypothyroidism.  When adjusted for other health factors which can contribute to hypothyroidism, the vegan diet consistently has the best correlation to lower risk.
7. Reduces Risk of Cataract
You may not be surprised to hear that a vegetarian diet can help your waistline, but your eyes too? In a study that compared the impact of a meat diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet on cataract development, researchers reported that vegetarians and vegans enjoyed the smallest incidence of cataract development. 
8. Therapeutic Support for Rheumatoid Arthritis
In the quest to find a solution for rheumatoid arthritis diet has not been ignored in clinical research. A 2010 study suggested a vegan or vegetarian diet improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.  This supported the findings of earlier research which suggest a vegan diet, along with the elimination of dietary gluten, may quell the immune response which triggers rheumatoid arthritis. 
9. Promotes Kidney Health
Adjustments to diet can help certain chronic diseases, such as chronic kidney disease. These impacts are positive because a vegetarian diet can balance phosphate levels, positively affect insulin sensitivity and help control the body’s acidity levels.  These effects can help individuals with chronic kidney disease get necessary nutrition without the dangerous side effects of a diet including animal proteins.
10. Extends Longevity?
Let’s face it, none of us are getting out of here alive. However, the research certainly suggests that the high nutrient consumption of a vegan or vegetarian diet may improve longevity. One study found strict vegans following a careful diet consumed greater amounts of high quality nutrients leading to better metabolic health. 
Based on everything we have learned about the beneficial properties of the phytochemicals found in plant-based foods, we should not be surprised a vegetarian or vegan diet can improve health. Of course, to enjoy the benefits of such a diet one must be vigilant to get all the essential nutrients our bodies require. Are you vegetarian or vegan? How do you ensure you get the full spectrum of nutrition? Please leave a comment and share your experience!
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Alrabadi NI. The effect of lifestyle food on chronic diseases: a comparison between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in Jordan. Glob J Health Sci. 2012 Nov 4;5(1):65-9. doi: 10.5539/gjhs.v5n1p65.
- Tonstad S, Stewart K, Oda K, Batech M, Herring RP, Fraser GE. Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Apr;23(4):292-9. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2011.07.004. Epub 2011 Oct 7.
- Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wilcox S. Does the type of weight loss diet affect who participates in a behavioral weight loss intervention? A comparison of participants for a plant-based diet versus a standard diet trial. Appetite. 2013 Nov 20. pii: S0195-6663(13)00453-4. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.008.
- Huang T, Yang B, Zheng J, Li G, Wahlqvist ML, Li D. Cardiovascular disease mortality and cancer incidence in vegetarians: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;60(4):233-40. doi: 10.1159/000337301. Epub 2012 Jun 1.
- Crowe FL, Appleby PN, Travis RC, Key TJ. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Mar;97(3):597-603. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044073. Epub 2013 Jan 30.
- Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Feb;22(2):286-94. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-1060. Epub 2012 Nov 20.
- Tonstad S, Nathan E, Oda K, Fraser G. Vegan Diets and Hypothyroidism. Nutrients. 2013 Nov 20;5(11):4642-4652.
- Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1128-35. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004028. Epub 2011 Mar 23.
- Smedslund G, Byfuglien MG, Olsen SU, Hagen KB. Effectiveness and safety of dietary interventions for rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 May;110(5):727-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.02.010.
- Hafström I, Ringertz B, Spångberg A, von Zweigbergk L, Brannemark S, Nylander I, Rönnelid J, Laasonen L, Klareskog L. A vegan diet free of gluten improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: the effects on arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to food antigens. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2001 Oct;40(10):1175-9.
- Chauveau P, Combe C, Fouque D, Aparicio M. Vegetarianism: advantages and drawbacks in patients with chronic kidney diseases. J Ren Nutr. 2013 Nov;23(6):399-405. doi: 10.1053/j.jrn.2013.08.004. Epub 2013 Sep 23.
- Rizza W, Veronese N, Fontana L. What are the roles of calorie restriction and diet quality in promoting healthy longevity? Ageing Res Rev. 2013 Nov 27. pii: S1568-1637(13)00090-1. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2013.11.002.