diet is known to confer a wide range of health benefits. Research
has shown vegetarians to suffer less heart disease, hypertension,
obesity, diabetes, various cancers, diverticular disease, bowel
disorders, gall stones, kidney stones, and osteoporosis (Dwyer,
1988). Vegetarian diets have also been used in the treatment
of various illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis and nephrotic
Dickerson & Davies (1986) studied matched pairs of
vegetarians and non-vegetarians with regard to their general
health. It was found that the vegetarians made 22% of the visits
to hospital out-patients of non-vegetarians, and spent a similarly
reduced proportion of time in hospital.
A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
A typical vegetarian diet closely matches expert dietary recommendations
for healthy eating, being low in saturated fat and high in fibre,
complex carbohydrates, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
The 1983 NACNE Report (National Advisory Committee on Nutrition
Education) in the UK recommended a reduction in fat intake,
particularly saturated fat, and an increased dietary proportion
of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats. An increased intake
of complex carbohydrates and fibre and a decreased intake of
sugar and salt were also recommended.
The World Health Organisation (1990) has similarly recommended
a reduced intake of fat and increased consumption of complex
carbohydrates. Increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, cereals
and pulses is also recommended.
The nutritional guidelines from the World Health Organisation,
the NACNE Report and other expert bodies form the basis of advice
given on healthy eating by health professionals today.
Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in total fat. Taber &
Cook (1980) found lacto-ovo vegetarians to consume an average
of 35% of energy as fat, compared to omnivores consuming over
40% of energy as fat. A study of the diets of a group of French
vegetarians found they had a daily intake of 25% less fat than
non-vegetarians (Millet, 1989). Vegetarians also tend to eat
proportionally more polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat compared
with non-vegetarians. Animal products are the major sources
of dietary saturated fat.
The best dietary sources of complex carbohydrates and fibre
(also called non-starch polysaccharides or NSP's) include wholegrain
cereals, vegetables and pulses and so vegetarian diets tend
to be high in these nutrients. Animal products contain no fibre
or complex carbohydrate.