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Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):502S-507S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.502S.

The contribution of vegetarian diets to health and disease: a paradigm shift?

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Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA 92350, USA.


Advances in nutrition research during the past few decades have changed scientists' understanding of the contribution of vegetarian diets to human health and disease. Diets largely based on plant foods, such as well-balanced vegetarian diets, could best prevent nutrient deficiencies as well as diet-related chronic diseases. However, restrictive or unbalanced vegetarian diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies, particularly in situations of high metabolic demand. If some vegetarian diets are healthier than diets largely based on animal products, this constitutes an important departure from previous views on dietary recommendations to prevent disease conditions. Based on different paradigms, 3 models are presented depicting the population health risks and benefits of vegetarian and meat-based diets. This series of models encapsulates the evolution of scientific understanding on the overall effects of these dietary patterns on human health. Recent scientific advances seem to have resulted in a paradigm shift: diets largely based on plant foods, such as well-balanced vegetarian diets, are viewed more as improving health than as causing disease, in contrast with meat-based diets.

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