Many studies have shown potential health benefits from following a healthy plant-based diet — a phrase that doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as a vegetarian diet. In most studies, a healthy plant-based diet has been defined as eating mostly healthy plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes, and nuts and seeds. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, typically involves avoiding meat and poultry entirely, with some definitions also including avoiding fish. Most definitions of “vegetarian” allow consumption of dairy products and eggs, while an entirely plant-based or vegan diet means not eating these foods.

Following a healthy plant-based diet has been shown to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, and a plant-based diet that includes fermented dairy foods like yogurt may help prevent the most common forms of cardiovascular disease. A healthy plant-based diet may also help prevent age-related cognitive decline. But some researchers have been interested in looking at whether focusing on plant-based nutrition could be beneficial during childhood, or whether a vegetarian diet could actually be harmful during this phase of life. Dietary factors during childhood have gained attention as increasing numbers of U.S. teens develop prediabetes, potentially putting them at risk for diabetes and other serious health problems as they get older.

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