Know what's best for your health


Do you recommend a vegetarian or a vegan diet?

Vegetarian diets, which contain no meat (beef, pork, poultry, or fish and shellfish), are naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and full of vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting compounds. A multitude of scientific studies have shown that vegetarian diets have remarkable health benefits and can help prevent certain diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. We encourage vegetarian diets as a way of improving general health and preventing diet-related illnesses.

Vegan diets, which contain no animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal products), are even healthier than vegetarian diets. Vegan diets contain no cholesterol and even less fat, saturated fat, and calories than vegetarian diets because they exclude dairy and eggs. Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, making vegan diets the healthiest overall.

Learn more about the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets.

PAVF respects the views of Vegan Organizations but considers Vegetarian diets more balanced, practical and sufficient to meet the needs of health, environment,ethics and economic welfare. For details, please read the article: Why be a Vegetarian, not Vegan.

I want to try a vegetarian or vegan diet. How should I start?

If a vegetarian diet is new to you, you’ll be pleased to discover a wonderful additional benefit to vegetarian eating: It’s a fun way to explore delicious new foods. Start by checking out our Vegetarian Starter Kit, which explains the New Four Food Groups and offers useful tips, the “whys” and “hows” of a healthier diet, and easy-to-make recipes.

To order a Vegetarian Starter Kit, please visit PCRM's complimentary literature page.

Want more recipes? Go to our recipe archive.

Is it healthy for children to be on a vegan or vegetarian diet?

A well-balanced vegan or vegetarian diet is safe and healthy for any person at any stage of life, including infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets are packed with all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that growing children need. And meatless diets have many important health advantages: Vegetarians enjoy a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Since eating habits are set in early childhood, choosing a vegetarian diet can give your child the opportunity to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods—and to carry those healthy eating habits into adulthood.

Learn more about vegetarian nutrition for children.

Learn more about building strong bones in children.

Read more about our book Healthy Eating for Life for Children.

How do I get protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet? Do I need to combine proteins?

Protein is an important nutrient required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues in the body. It was once thought that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value; this practice was known as “protein combining” or “protein complementing.” We now know that intentional combining is not necessary. As long as the diet contains a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables, protein needs are easily met. Especially protein-rich vegetarian foods include soy-based products like tofu, texturized vegetable protein, tempeh (a fermented soybean product), and veggie burgers, seitan (a meat substitute made from a wheat protein called gluten), black beans, lentils, chickpeas, grains such as quinoa and bulgur, and whole wheat bread.

Learn more about getting protein on a vegetarian diet.

How do I get enough calcium on a vegan or vegetarian diet? What about osteoporosis?

By eating calcium-rich vegetarian foods, including leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale, white beans, fortified soymilks and juices, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, you can obtain all the calcium your body needs. But keeping your bones strong and avoiding osteoporosis depends on more than calcium intake—you also need to keep calcium in your bones. Exercise and vitamin D help keep the calcium in your bones, while animal protein, excess salt and caffeine, and tobacco can cause calcium loss.

Learn how to prevent and reverse osteoporosis.

Learn more about getting calcium on a vegetarian diet.

Learn more about building strong bones.

What’s wrong with drinking milk? Is organic milk better? Is soymilk a safer alternative? What about other dairy products?

Milk contains fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and diets high in fat and saturated fat can increase the risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Other dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream, also contribute significant amounts of cholesterol and fat to the diet. Even low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products carry health risks because of cholesterol. In addition, natural and artificial hormones are present in all types of milk and dairy products, regardless of fat.

Organic milk may not contain the pesticides and antibiotics that non-organic milk contains, but it is still loaded with fat and cholesterol. Organic cow’s milk, which does not contain artificial hormones, does contain naturally occurring hormones. The combination of nutrients found in both organic and non-organic cow’s milk increases our own production of some types of hormones.These hormones have been shown to increase the risk of some forms of cancer.

Here are eight great health reasons to eliminate milk, cheese, and other dairy products from your diet.

Learn more about building strong bones without consuming dairy products.

Soymilk and other non-dairy beverages, such as rice and nut milks, are healthy alternatives to cow’s milk. These beverages come in different flavors, and many of them are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. They work well on cereal, in coffee and tea, and in baking and cooking. Grocery stores now regularly carry soymilk, and most coffee shops offer a variety of soy coffee drinks. Learn more about soy.

Is it safe to eat soybeans and other soy foods?

Recently, questions have been raised about the possible health risks of soy consumption, but the overwhelming majority of studies on soy have shown positive health effects or, at worst, neutral ones. Eating soy in moderation is appropriate for a healthy diet. There have been concerns about processed soy products, such as “mock meats,” but moderate intakes of these foods are not likely to cause health problems. Some soy products are high in sodium and contain a higher-than-healthy level of fat, so be sure to check the labels and choose the healthier versions. Nonetheless, these foods are much healthier than the animal-derived foods they are intended to replace. If you do choose to avoid soy, you will find it can be easily replaced with other foods. Lentils, beans, and other legumes are a hearty and delicious source of plant-based protein and other nutrients. They are also the richest source of dietary fiber. Learn more about soy.

What are the safest types of fish to eat? Aren’t fish the best source of omega-3 fatty acids?

PCRM does not recommend eating any fish or shellfish because they can contain unsafe levels of contaminants and are often high in mercury and other environmental toxins that have no place in a healthy diet. Fish also contain no fiber and are high in animal protein, and often, in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Read our report on fish and shellfish safety.

The most nutritious sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are plant-based foods, including green leafy vegetables, legumes, wheat germ, soybeans, and ground flaxseeds. We do not recommend fish or fish oil as a healthy source of essential fatty acids. By getting omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and protein from plant-based foods, you can avoid the health risks associated with fish consumption.

Learn more about essential fatty acids.

What is the best way to get vitamin B12?

Individuals following a vegan diet can easily meet their vitamin B12 needs by consuming a variety of vegan foods, including vitamin B12-fortified breakfast cereals, soymilk, and meat analogues. Some brands of nutritional yeast, such as Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula, are a reliable source for this vitamin. Most common multivitamins also contain B12.

Learn more about vitamin B12.

What’s the best diet for weight loss?

Both short-term and long-term, the most effective weight loss comes from avoiding animal products and keeping fats and vegetable oils to a minimum. In addition, it helps to keep the natural fiber in the foods you eat. This means eating whole-grain breads instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). And don’t forget the importance of physical activity for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Learn more about healthy weight loss.

Learn more about healthy weight management.

Are carbohydrates bad for you? Is it OK to eat carbohydrates if I am trying to lose weight?

There is a myth that pasta, bread, potatoes, and rice are fattening, but nothing could be further from the truth. Carbohydrate-rich foods are perfect for permanent weight control because they contain less than half the calories of fat, which means that replacing fatty foods with complex carbohydrates automatically cuts calories. It’s important to remember to eat healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, pasta, brown rice, and sweet potatoes. Processed carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, are not as healthy a choice because they have lost much of their fiber and other nutrients.

Learn more about healthy weight loss.

Learn more about healthy weight management.

Read our report about health risks associated with high-fat, high-protein, carbohydrate-restricted diets.

Is the Atkins diet healthy/safe? What about other low-carb diets?

The Atkins diet and other low-carb fad diets, which are high in fat and protein and severely restrict carbohydrates, are not healthy approaches to losing weight. High-fat, high-protein diets are associated with many health risks, ranging from mild (constipation, headache, and bad breath) to significant (impaired kidney function, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer).

The American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Kidney Fund have all published statements warning about the various dangers associated with low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

Learn more about the Atkins Diet.

Read our report about health risks associated with high-fat, high-protein, carbohydrate-restricted diets.

Is it true that some foods are addictive?

Studies suggest that cheese, chocolate, sugar, and meat all spark the release of opiate-like substances that trigger the brain’s pleasure center and seduce us into eating them again and again. These foods stimulate the same opiate receptors in your brain as heroin or morphine, but to a much lesser degree. Drugs used to block the effects of heroin and morphine can also reduce or end the appeal of these four foods. Luckily, there are many healthy dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to break food addictions.

Read more about addictive foods.

Learn more about ending unhealthy food cravings.

Read more about Dr. Neal Barnard’s book Breaking the Food Seduction.

Someone in my family was diagnosed with cancer: What dietary recommendations would you offer him or her?

Scientific studies have shown that a low-fat, vegetarian diet can help in cancer prevention and survival. PCRM recommends replacing meat, dairy products, and other animal products with healthy, low-fat meals rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting compounds. And they don’t contain the high amounts of fat and cholesterol found in meat and other animal products. During medical treatment for cancer, your family member should consult his or her medical care team for any specific dietary recommendations related to the type of cancer or treatment.

Learn more about foods for cancer prevention.

Read our
Survivor’s Handbook, a useful guide to eating right for cancer prevention and survival.

For more information on cancer and diet, please go to The Cancer Project Web site.

Is it possible to lower blood pressure with diet? If so, how?

Changing the way you eat can lower your blood pressure and reduce or eliminate the need for medication. You can lower your blood pressure by reducing the salt in your diet, eating more low-sodium vegetarian foods, losing weight, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, and becoming physically active. People who follow vegetarian diets typically have lower blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you should consult your physician.

Learn more about diet and blood pressure.

Are there natural approaches to menopause?

Women can make many dietary and lifestyle changes to ease the pain and discomfort of menopause without the side effects of estrogen. For example, switching to a vegetarian diet is better for your heart and bones than estrogen prescriptions.

Learn more about a natural approach to menopause.

I have a question about the prescription drug my doctor gave me. Can you help?

PCRM's focus is preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. We do not focus on medications, vaccinations, or supplements in any great detail, and therefore we do not have any information on this topic. If you have a question about your prescription drug, please consult your physician or pharmacist.

Will you recommend a doctor?

PCRM does not offer a physician referral directory. However, the American Holistic Medical Association does offer such a directory.