The Safe and Effective Use of Plant-Based Diets with Guidelines for Health Professionals
Plant-based diets, defined here as including both vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, are growing in popularity throughout the Western world for various reasons, including concerns for human health and the health of the planet. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than meat-based diets and have a reduced environmental impact, including producing lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Dietary guidelines are normally formulated to enhance the health of society, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and prevent nutritional deficiencies. We reviewed the scientific data on plant-based diets to summarize their preventative and therapeutic role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis. Consuming plant-based diets is safe and effective for all stages of the life cycle, from pregnancy and lactation, to childhood, to old age. Plant-based diets, which are high in fiber and polyphenolics, are also associated with a diverse gut microbiota, producing metabolites that have anti-inflammatory functions that may help manage disease processes. Concerns about the adequate intake of a number of nutrients, including vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fats, are discussed. The use of fortified foods and/or supplements as well as appropriate food choices are outlined for each nutrient. Finally, guidelines are suggested for health professionals working with clients consuming plant-based diets.