We review the beneficial and adverse effects of vegetarian diets in various medical conditions. Soybean-protein diet, legumes, nuts and soluble fibre significantly decrease total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides. Diets rich in fibre and complex carbohydrate, and restricted in fat, improve control of blood glucose concentration, lower insulin requirement and aid in weight control in diabetic patients. An inverse association has been reported between nut, fruit, vegetable and fibre consumption, and the risk of coronary heart disease. Patients eating a vegetarian diet, with comprehensive lifestyle changes, have had reduced frequency, duration and severity of angina as well as regression of coronary atherosclerosis and improved coronary perfusion. An inverse association between fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke has been suggested. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially spinach and collard green, was associated with a lower risk of age-related ocular macular degeneration. There is an inverse association between dietary fibre intake and incidence of colon and breast cancer as well as prevalence of colonic diverticula and gallstones. A decreased breast cancer risk has been associated with high intake of soy bean products. The beneficial effects could be due to the diet (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, fibre, complex carbohydrate, antioxidant vitamins, flavanoids, folic acid and phytoestrogens) as well as the associated healthy lifestyle in vegetarians. There are few adverse effects, mainly increased intestinal gas production and a small risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.