Experts give vegetarian diet tick of approval

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An Australian-first scientific research review published in last month’s Medical Journal of Australia, has dispelled a number of commonly held notions about vegetarian diets.  

The 40-page review aims to provide up-to-date evidence and practical advice to general practitioners and dietitians/nutritionists across Australia on how vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of important nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, omega-3 and vitamin B12. 

A plant-based diet easily supplies the body’s needs and meets daily requirements.

Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing and Adventist Health sponsored the papers. The authors include three dietitians/nutritionists from Sanitarium (Angela Saunders, Michelle Reid and Melinda Ramsay) and three from Sydney Adventist Hospital (Carol Zeuschner, Dr Jenny Posen and Dr Bevan Hokin). Dr Winston Craig from Andrews University (US) and Sue Radd, dietitian/nutritionist and presenter on InFocus, were also involved.

Sanitarium organised a media event to launch the journal, attended by Medical Journal of Australia editor, Dr Ruth Armstrong. The event was hosted by Dr Darren Morton from Avondale College and included a vegetarian luncheon, a panel discussion and a cooking demonstration by Maddison Fox, dietitian/nutritionist from Sanctuary Sanitarium.

Respected dietitian/nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton, who wrote an accompanying editorial to the research papers, also presented at the event. She said scientific evidence showed a well-planned, plant-based diet could meet the nutritional needs of adults and children while reducing the risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

The review puts to rest the widespread assumption that a vegetarian diet is likely to lack protein and iron, and that it’s not suitable for pregnant women or children.

“The average Aussie eats significantly more protein than is required by the body. A plant-based diet easily supplies the body’s needs and meets daily requirements,” Dr Stanton said.

The review reveals that iron needs can be easily met by a plant-based diet. Vegetarians who follow a balanced diet are not at any greater risk of iron deficiency anaemia than those on an omnivorous diet.

Dr Stanton said there were no significant health differences in babies born to vegetarian mums, and plant-based diets could offer many advantages to pregnant women including a reduced risk of excess weight gain. When meals are planned well, there is no notable difference in the growth of vegetarian children compared to children consuming meat-based diets.

“Eating more plant-based meals is a good recipe for our own health and that of the planet. Diets dominated by wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are almost certainly the way of the future,” Dr Stanton said.

Three of the authors, Dr Kate Marsh, Carol Zeuschner and Angela Saunders, also had another article, “Health Implications of a Vegetarian Diet: A Review”, published in hard copy in the May-June edition of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

Jarrod Stackelroth is assistant editor of RECORD.