Scientists believe that properly planned and executed vegetarian diets can cover nutritional needs and moreover protect against chronic diseases.
The health benefits, described in the recommendations published by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) apply to infants, children, adults, including pregnant women, as well as the elderly.
ADA has released an updated position paper on vegetarian diets that appears in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in which it says the conditions that can be prevented include heart disease and diabetes.
"[A]ppropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases," the paper states.
For example, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates, it says.
It also stresses vegetarian diets are typically lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals, which may explain their health benefits.