There are a host of good reasons to become vegetarian. Partaking in the vegetarian diet can be an active stand against the industrial, inhumane treatment of animals. It might be a way of putting environmentalism into action. Or, probably the most common reason, is to enjoy a healthier standard of life.
Surely, all these reasons play an important role in why vegetarianism is exploding in popularity in the United States. Over 7 million people currently follow the vegetarian diet, having a palpable effect on our planet and food system.
There seems to be plenty of nay-sayers out there, claiming that the vegetarian diet is neither natural, nor healthy. But, studies repeatedly show the positive effects the vegetarian diet has on people’s lives. Here is a quick overview of some of those effects.
Increased Life Span
One of the most alluring health benefits of vegetarianism is the effects on life span. In a paper titled “The Contribution of Vegetarian Diets to Human Health” published by Loma Linda University’s Department of Nutrition, the paper describes some of the health benefits that are demonstrated in vegetarians. It states that, “Numerous studies show important and quantifiable benefits of the different components of vegetarian diets, namely the reduction of risk for many chronic diseases and the increase in longevity.” Another paper called “Nutrition Concerns and Health Effects of Vegetarian Diets” published by Andrews University echoes these claims in more detail, “…vegetarians typically have lower body mass index, serum total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and blood pressure; reduced rates of death from ischemic heart disease; and decreased incidence of hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers than do nonvegetarians.”
It’s clear that by eliminating meat from the diet, the risk of many diseases and illnesses are greatly reduced, increasing the overall chances of increased lifespan. Yet another paper published by the University of Giessen suggests that, “The benefits arise from lower intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein as well as higher intakes of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C and E, carotenoids and other phytochemicals.” So it is not just a matter of being a vegetarian, but of being a healthy vegetarian – eating the right foods and staying active. One contributing factor to the overall health benefits of the vegetarian diet is that those who choose to partake in it are more health conscious than those who do not think about what they eat. Vegetarians are, as a result, predisposed to greater health.
Decreased Risk of Cancer
When meat is eliminated from the diet, it needs to be compensated for in some way. A vegetarian who subsists on potato chips and soda may be a vegetarian, but not a healthy one. It’s important to increase the amount of whole grains, legumes (beans), fruits, vegetables, and (if you’re not vegan) moderate amounts of dairy and eggs. By doing so, you’ll be getting all the proteins and essential nutrients your body needs to function, while reducing unwanted saturated fats and cholesterol.
Vegetarians have a tendency to eat more vegetables. Vegetables – especially leafy greens – have all sorts of cancer fighting nutrients in them, one of which is anti-oxidants. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese are examples of anti-oxidants, but there are others present to be sure. In one cup of kale, for example, there is 206%DV of vitamin A and 134%DV of vitamin C. When ingested, these antioxidants actively seek out and neutralize free radicals roaming in the body. Free radicals have been shown to be a cause of cancer, as they can put stress on cells that causes them to mutate. Unwanted cell mutation is how cancer forms, and, thus, high antioxidant levels in the body have been proven to help defend against cancer.
Vegetarians and Heart Disease
Fruits and vegetables also have anti-inflammatory properties that prevent the body from excessive inflammation in the cardiovascular system. Unwanted inflammation stresses out the body, putting a lot of strain on the heart, arteries, and blood vessels around the body, which, over time, can cause permanent damage. Vegetarians eat more fruits and vegetables, and the risk of heart disease drops significantly.
One reason for heart disease is high levels of homocysteine in blood stream. A high percentage of those who experience heart attacks have excessive amounts in their blood stream, and it is commonly known as an indicator of risk of cardiovascular problems. Fruits and vegetables often have high levels of B vitamins – folic acid, in particular – which help to decrease homocysteine levels in the blood stream, keeping them at normal levels, and decreasing the risk of heart disease.
Less Fat, More Fiber
Vegetarians generally consume much higher amounts of dietary fiber, which has all sorts of positive effects on the body. Meat has precisely zero fiber in it. When meat is replaced by whole grains and legumes, vegetarians receive all the complete proteins they need to be healthy, while reaping the benefits of all the extra dietary fiber these have.
High intake of dietary fiber has been directly correlated to a decrease in the risk of colon cancer. This is because dietary fiber cleans out the digestive tract, keeping you clean and regular. Also, meat is much more difficult for the body to digest, which obstructs the digestion tract, which leads to problems over the long term. Eliminating meat and increasing dietary fiber is a sure-fire way to obtaining great digestive health.
Dietary fiber has also been proven to decrease overall cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). When dietary fiber is ingested, it neutralizes bile acids. It just so happens that the liver borrows bile acids to help detoxify the body. When sufficient levels of bile acid are not available, the liver takes cholesterol to use in its stead, lowering overall cholesterol in the process. Dietary fiber promotes heart health.
Vegetarian Diet Promotes Health
Granted, eating meat in moderation is not necessarily unhealthy. But, when the average American consumes over 275 pounds of meat per year, we are eating far more than our fair share, and it’s taking its toll on our health. By making the simple decision to cut all meat from your life and become vegetarian, you’ll experience all the great health benefits that go along with it.