Vegans diets are healthy for newborn babies and elderly people, a leading group of nutritionists claim.
Those who adopt a plant-based diet are known to consume fewer sweets and salty snacks, lowering their risk of heart disease, obesity and some cancers.
But criticism for the ethical diet has been rife in recent years following cases of malnourishment in young children.
However, in a position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it says cutting meat is healthy for all stages of life.
The trick is to make sure the diets are well planned out and balanced, says registered dietitian Vandana Sheth, from the organisation.
Those who adopt a plant-based diet are known to consume fewer sweets and salty snacks, lowering their risk of heart disease, obesity and some cancers
She said: ‘Any diet that is not well planned and balanced can have negative side effects.
‘Just because foods are plant based doesn’t automatically make them healthy.
‘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 and vitamin B-12, she added.
Getting enough B-12, which comes from milk and eggs, is a specific concern in the vegan diet as a deficiency can lead to neurological problems.
While Ms Sheth also said diets containing whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are ‘nutritionally adequate’ and could prevent certain diseases.
‘People who adopt vegetarian diets have a lower body mass index, better control of blood pressure and blood glucose, less inflammation and lower cholesterol levels compared with non-vegetarians,’ she added.
The organisation’s statement, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, continued to say that those who adopt a vegan diet reduce the risk of diabetes by 62 per cent.
In a position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it says cutting meat is healthy for all stages of life – even newborns
While the likelihood of prostate cancer was cut by 35 per cent, heart disease by 29 per cent and all forms of cancer by 18 per cent.
Previous research has found that swapping meat and eggs for lentils and nuts could add years to someone’s life.
US scientists discovered eating less animal protein substantially reduced early deaths from heart disease.
While other health benefits of the plant-based diet include a lower risk of becoming obese.
However, just because a food is considered vegan, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy, another expert cautioned.
Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, made it clear that ‘fries and coke are vegan’.
Swapping meat and eggs for lentils and nuts could add years to your life, research in August found.
Scientists discovered eating less protein from animal sources such as red meat and dairy products, and increasing plant proteins from cereals, beans and soya, substantially reduced death rates.
Mortality from heart disease fell 12 per cent, and deaths from all causes fell by 10 per cent, for every three per cent increase in calories from plant protein, the US researchers found.
In contrast, raising the animal protein share of calories by 10 per cent led to an eight per cent greater chance of dying from a heart problem and two per cent higher risk of all-cause death.
Despite not being involved in the position statement, he added that most of the harmful stuff in the food supply is vegetarian or vegan.
‘Indeed, much of the harmful stuff in the food supply is vegetarian or vegan: refined grains, starches, added sugars, sweets, trans fats and salt,’ he said.
‘People can have a vegetarian or vegan diet that is healthy or terrible; and a non-vegetarian or non-vegan diet that is healthy or terrible.’
Earlier this year a Pennsylvania mother was charged with endangerment for feeding her baby nothing but a small amount of nuts and berries.
While in Italy, after a number of vegan babies were hospitalised for malnourishment, a bill was proposed to make it a crime for children under 16 to follow the diet.
And in 2005, Kimu Parker, from Arizona, was arrested in April 2005 for nearly starving her three children with a diet she and the children’s father called vegan.
She was sentenced to 30 years in prison; the father, Blair Parker, got 15 years.