People are drawn to vegetarianism by all sorts of motives. Some of us want to live longer, healthier lives or do our part to reduce pollution. Others have made the switch because we want to preserve Earth’s natural resources or because we’ve always loved animals and are ethically opposed to eating them.
Thanks to an abundance of scientific research that demonstrates the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, even the federal government recommends that we consume most of our calories from grain products, vegetables, and fruits. And no wonder, an estimated 70% of all diseases, including one-third of all cancers, are related to diet. A vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung, and esophageal cancer.
15 Benefits Of A Vegetarian Diet
1. Wards Off Disease
Vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, particularly in preventing, treating, or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop the progression
2. Keeps Weight Down
The standard American diet, high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in plant-based foods and complex carbohydrates, is making us fat and killing us slowly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, 64% of adults and 15% of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight and are at risk of weight-related ailments, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A study conducted from 1986 to 1992 by Dean Ornish,
3. Increases Longevity
If you switch from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, coauthor of The RealAge Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat. “People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives. Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy, and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.”
Residents of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world, according to a 30-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet
4. Builds Strong Bones
When there isn’t enough calcium in the bloodstream, our bodies will leach it from existing bone. The metabolic result is that our skeletons will become porous and lose strength over time. Most healthcare practitioners recommend that we increase our intake of calcium the way nature intended through foods. Foods also supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D that are necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium.
People who are mildly lactose-intolerant can often enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and lactose-free milk. But if you avoid dairy altogether, you can still get a healthful dose of calcium from dry beans, tofu, soymilk, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, and turnip greens.
5. Reduces Risk Of Food-Borne Illnesses
The CDC reports that food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses a year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods rich in protein such as
6. Eases Menopause Symptoms
Many foods contain nutrients beneficial to perimenopausal and menopausal women. Certain foods are rich in phytoestrogens, the plant-based chemical compounds that mimic the behavior of estrogen. Since phytoestrogens can increase and decrease estrogen and progesterone levels, maintaining a balance of them in your diet helps ensure a more comfortable passage through menopause. Soy is by far the most abundant natural source of phytoestrogens, but these compounds also can be found in hundreds of other foods such as apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash, and yams. Because menopause is also associated with weight gain and a slowed metabolism, a low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet can help ward off extra pounds.
7. Yields More Energy
Good nutrition generates more usable energy to keep pace with the kids, tackle that home improvement project, or have better sex more often, says Michael F. Roizen, MD in The RealAge Diet. Too much fat in your bloodstream means that arteries won’t open properly and that your muscles won’t get enough oxygen. The result?
8. Regularizes Bowel Clearance
Eating a lot of vegetables necessarily means consuming more fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Meat contains no fiber. People who eat lower on the food chain tend to have fewer instances of constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulitis.
9. Involves Less Pollution
Some people become vegetarians after realizing the devastation that the meat industry is having on the environment. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chemical and animal waste runoff from factory farms is responsible for more than 173,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams. Runoff from farmlands is one of the greatest threats to water quality today. Agricultural activities that cause pollution include confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing, and harvesting.
10. Helps Avoid Toxic Chemicals
The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide
11. Helps Reduce Famine
About 70% of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. If all the grain currently fed to livestock were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million, says David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University. If the grain were exported, it would boost the US trade balance by $80 billion a year.
12. Spares Animals
Many vegetarians give up meat because of their concern for animals. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. And, unlike the farms
13. Helps Save Money
Meat accounts for 10% of Americans’ food spending. Eating vegetables, grains, and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken, and fish each nonvegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
14. Gives You A Colorful Meal
Disease-fighting phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their rich, varied hues. They come in two main classes: carotenoids and anthocyanins. All rich yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, and corn owe their color to carotenoids. Leafy green vegetables also are rich in carotenoids but get their green color from chlorophyll. Red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables, like plums, cherries, and red bell peppers contain anthocyanins. Cooking by color is a good way to ensure you’re eating a variety of naturally occurring substances that boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses.
15. Is Easy To Maintain
It’s almost effortless these days to find great-tasting and good-for-you vegetarian foods, whether you’re strolling the aisles of your local supermarket or walking down the street at lunchtime. If you need inspiration in the kitchen, look no further than the Internet, your favorite bookseller, or your local vegetarian society’s newsletter for culinary tips and great recipes. And if you’re eating out, almost any ethnic restaurant will offer vegetarian selections. In a hurry? Most fast food and fast casual restaurants now include healthful and inventive salads, sandwiches, and entrée on their menus. So rather than asking yourself why go vegetarian, the real question is: Why haven’t you gone vegetarian?