"I think that becoming a vegetarian was nothing other than a logic response to the need of a better quality of life in all aspects,"Danilo Turrina, an Italian art gallery director, told Xinhua on Sunday.
Turrina, who is 53 and started a plant-based diet when he was only a child, is part of the 6 percent of Italian adults, or nearly 4 million citizens, who never eat meat, poultry or seafood, according to a nationwide survey by Eurispes research institute.
Eurispes said that the figure was up 2 percentage points from 2012 and include 1.1 percent of vegan, who forgo animal products such as dairy and eggs, and will celebrate the World Vegan Day on Nov. 1 with a series of initiatives throughout Italy.
"Vegetarianism is definitely a more mainstream choice than ever before,"said Carmen Nicchi Somaschi, president of the Italian Vegetarian Association (AVI).
Vegetarian festivals and activities in the Mediterranean country count thousands of followers. "This does not amaze me. Everybody in Italy knows at least a couple of vegetarians by now,"Nicchi Somaschi, who has a field experience of more than 30 years, told Xinhua.
AVI, the oldest vegetarian association in Italy, was born in 1952 and has contributed to spread the movement to Europe, also organizing the first vegetarian congress at the European level in 1985.
Nicchi Somaschi noted that many companies, including some big ones, have opened to vegetarian products in recent years so that the variety of meatless foods has increased to satisfy all tastes.
Vegetarianism in Italy is supported by several internationally renowned experts such as Umberto Veronesi, founder and scientific director of the European Institute of Oncology (IEO) and one of the major world specialists in the cure for cancer.
Research on vegetarians suggests that a meatless diet provides "ongoing health benefits and a longer life,"the oncologist explained to Xinhua. To the contrary, "it is proven that excessive consumption of animal fats is the main cause of a high incidence of diseases related to overeating such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes,"he added.
A plant-based diet is moreover ideal for environment protection and fight against global hunger.
"Rangelands take up many hectares that could be used to produce food for the one billion of people who are dying of hunger and malnutrition in the world. Just think that it takes 15,000 liters of water to get a kilogram of meat, while it only takes 1,000 liters to have the same amount of grain,"Veronesi noted.
Marco Bertali, a vegetarian doctor and author, told Xinhua that studies of evolution have shown that human ancestors were vegetarian by nature.
"The structure of human body is clearly not suited for eating meat. For example, our intestines are longer than those of carnivores, meaning the meat we eat stays inside us for a longer period of time, putrefying and creating toxins,"he said.
Meat consumers also absorb into their bodies the antibiotics and other drugs including steroids and growth hormones that are often added to animal feed or injected directly into the animals.
The Italian experts agreed that it is fundamental to pay special attention and to plan different factors of a plant-based diet out carefully, possibly also with the help of nutritionists, to ensure to get all of the necessary nutrients.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet - which beside vegetables, fruit and beans includes high-protein foods as tofu and other soy products, energy-dense options as nuts and seeds and, for those who are not vegan, low-fat dairy and eggs - can be healthful and appropriate at any age, they said.