The benefits of being a vegetarian are always a hot topic of debate and discussion when we talk about eating healthy. I’m no vegetarian and really do love my meat. But every once in a while, I go vegetarian to cleanse my body.
However, whenever I hear of people turning into vegetarians for life, I have to question – will a vegetarian diet actually help you? Or, is it possible that despite all the benefits of being vegetarian, depriving your body of meat could be potentially harmful in the long run? I did some research to see what the truth really is.
What the Smart People Say
Like always, everything gets denied from the start until someone with a degree says it’s okay. Doctors used to strongly recommend that their patients not believe in the benefits of being a vegetarian, but now recent findings show that the overall health of a person could be better if they were to follow a vegetarian diet.
Among the many benefits of turning vegetarian, several surveys have concluded that following a vegetarian diet has brought about a decrease in heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In fact, research by The American Dietetic Association (2009) concluded that
appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases….
So Exactly What Are the Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?
Even if you are skeptical as I am about a completely meat-free diet; there is no denying that adopting vegetarianism comes with a number of proven benefits.
Better For the Environment
There are numerous known benefits of being a vegetarian on the environment. Here are three ways how this would work.
- The 2006 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report found that raising cattle (for human consumption) generates more greenhouse gases than the millions of cars on our roads at present.
- According to the PB&J campaign, If you were to ditch the burger and consume a plant-based meal instead, you would save 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 133 gallons of water, and 24 square feet of land.
- The official handbook for Live Earth, the anti–climate change concerts that Al Gore helped organize, says that not eating meat is the “single most effective thing you can do” to reduce your climate change impact.
Protect Your Ticker
Sample this quote from a Harvard Medical School publication:
In 2009, in a study involving 65,000 people in the Oxford cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford), researchers found a 19% lower risk of death from heart disease among vegetarians.
Most processed meats contain saturated fats, which is BAD and can cause cholesterol buildups that eventually cause cardiovascular diseases. So meat always seems to be lurking in the background as a potential health risk to your heart. Eating less meat may not be such a bad thing after all. As a replacement, the Harvard Medical School suggests, “it’s also vital to replace saturated and trans fats with good fats, such as those found in nuts, olive oil, and canola oil.”
Vegetarians love to claim they’re skinnier due to the lack of meat in their diets. But (and it’s a big but) this is not always true. Many vegetarians consume way too many carbs (bread and pasta anyone?) and end up unhealthier than meat eaters. By minusing fatty meats from your diet, you will definitely get to your goal weight faster – just remember to substitute the meat with other sources of protein not carbs and processed foods.
If there’s anything that scares me more than heart disease, its cancer. One theory that has been floating around for awhile is that the high levels of fat in meat can actually act as a booster, giving cancer-promoting hormones an artificial leg-up within your body.
If that isn’t scary enough, I did some more research. More than 35,000 women were surveyed for a study published in the British Journal of Cancer. It was found that the participants that consumed more red and processed meat were, in fact at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Scary!
And it’s not just the ladies that have to worry. Meat consumption has been linked to cancers of the colon, pancreas, prostate and even the stomach.
You are what you eat has never had more meaning. Plant foods and water-based foods have plenty of antioxidants which act as your own personal source of anti-ageing serum.
Apparently vegetarians will outlive the meat-eaters. This is mainly because vegetarians consume more plant-based foods and less processed fats than the meat-eater. This in turn means, the vegetarian’s body will be less riddled with harmful toxins and chemical buildup. According to William Cstelli, MD, director f or the Farmingham Heart Study, vegetarians can live up to 3-6 years longer than meat eaters.
Will My Body Still Get Adequate Nutrition?
The benefits of being a vegetarian are numerous, I will agree. But my biggest concern about going vego is that I won’t get a balanced supply of the nutrients my body needs. A well balanced diet requires a proper intake of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
Think of these nutrients as the fluids you need to replace in your car every few days. You know that running your car without fuel or oil is going to make it break down possibly for good. However, unlike a car you will never be able to replace your body! So take that mental image and think about your body slowly shutting down from the inside without the nutrients.
So how do you replenish these valuable sources when you become a vegetarian?
Soy seems to be the most popular answer. Soybeans contain a good source of protein, and that is why companies actually produce vegetarian burgers, sausages, etc. for those who need their protein from something other than red meats. Believe it or not, but soy burgers actually taste pretty awesome!
If you still eat fish (many vegetarians do) then you have another good source of low fat protein.
Fruits contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, but then they also contain a higher amount of sugar as well. So fruits are good during certain parts of the day, but avoid eating them before going to bed.
Another way to go about your diet is by eating plenty of the right vegetables. Great vegetables for you to eat are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and plenty of others as well. I can eat steamed squash and zucchini every day without getting sick of it, but everybody ends up finding their own favorite veggie to consume.
Other foods you should definitely be eating more of are whole grains and legumes. They are high in fiber and make your stomach happy. These two food groups digest slowly and allow your body to maintain a stable blood sugar level, thus preventing diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Additionally, if you’re concerned about losing your source of iron (red meat) legumes and beans can be a good replacement. To aid absorption, consider adding a source of vitamin C to your meal.
Nuts are great to consume because they have plenty of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for maintaining better heart health.
Cheesy Pick Up
Eat Greek yogurt or some cheese to get your daily protein values as well. Watch the amount of cheese you eat though because it can be pretty fattening!
Also highly recommended are a healthy dose of vitamin and mineral supplements available to even out the nutrients lost from not eating meats.
Parting Thoughts from a Meat Lover
Have I gone vegetarian? No, not quite. But I have learned there are plenty of good things that can come from “Meat-free Mondays”. There is no need to eat meat every day of the week so I’m definitely going to eat less meat and consider more vegetarian options for my diet.
However, I do believe there is nothing wrong with a meat based diet. We just need to be more conscious of the meat we are consuming and how much of it. Smaller portion sizes of leaner options like skinless poultry, lean beef and even seafood are good choices.
As always, the key to any healthy diet is balance so even if you’re not prepared to turn into a vegetarian overnight – take baby steps with me and consider eliminating meat on certain days of the week and I think together we will start to feel a lot better.