Effect of the vegetarian diet on non-communicable diseases

J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Jan 30;94(2):169-73. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6362. Epub 2013 Oct 2.


A vegetarian diet generally includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, which are rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, vitamins C and E, Fe³⁺, folic acid and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), and is low in cholesterol, total fat and saturated fatty acid, sodium, Fe²⁺, zinc, vitamin A, B₁₂ and D, and especially n-3 PUFA. Mortality from all-cause, ischemic heart disease, and circulatory and cerebrovascular diseases was significantly lower in vegetarians than in omnivorous populations. Compared with omnivores, the incidence of cancer and type 2 diabetes was also significantly lower in vegetarians. However, vegetarians have a number of increased risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as increased plasma homocysteine, mean platelet volume and platelet aggregability compared with omnivores, which are associated with low intake of vitamin B₁₂ and n-3 PUFA. Based on the present data, it would seem appropriate for vegetarians to carefully design their diet, specifically focusing on increasing their intake of vitamin B₁₂ and n-3 PUFA to further reduce already low mortality and morbidity from non-communicable diseases.

Keywords: cancer; homocysteine; ischemic heart disease; mean platelet volume; mortality; platelet aggregation; type 2 diabetes; vegetarian, non-communicable diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Platelets / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control*
  • Diet, Vegetarian* / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Homocysteine / blood
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / complications


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Homocysteine