Vegetarian and vegan diets good for kids and adults, nutritionists say

Pre-cut vegetables of a self service salad bar are displayed for sale in a shop in the northern German town of Hamburg May 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen(Reuters Health) - - Plant-based diets are tied to a lower risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers - and pretty much anyone can eat this way, according to a leading group of nutritionists.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of life, including during infancy, pregnancy, childhood, adolescence and old age, the authors write in a position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

That's because people who adopt a plant-based diet tend to consume more fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets and salty snacks, and smaller amounts of total and saturated fats, the statement, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, asserts.

The trick is to make sure these diets are well planned out and well balanced, said Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Any diet that is not well planned and balanced can have negative side effects," Sheth said by email.

"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."

For younger vegetarians and vegans in particular, it's important to plan meals that include enough iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, and for some, calcium and vitamin D, Sheth said.

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