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 percent 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.
There are different kinds of vegetarians, depending on what they eat. The definition of a vegetarian that’s most widely accepted by fellow vegetarians is a person who eats no meat, fish, or poultry. A vegetarian consistently avoids all flesh foods, as well as by products of meat, fish, and poultry.
Of course, vegetarian diets vary in the extent to which they exclude animal products:
One adaptation of a vegetarian diet is a raw foods diet, in which adherents eat a diet that consists primarily of uncooked foods. The fruitarian diet consists only of fruits; vegetables botanically classified as fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and avocados; and seeds and nuts.
Chew on these reasons:
You’ll ward 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 of coronary artery disease or prevent it entirely.
You’ll keep your weight down. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, 64 percent of adults and 15 percent 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, MD, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, found that overweight people who followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off that weight 5 years later. They lost the weight without counting calories or carbs and without measuring portions or feeling hungry.
You’ll live longer. If you switch to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The Real Age 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.”
You’ll build strong bones. When there isn’t enough calcium in the bloodstream, our bodies will leach it from existing bone. 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.
You’ll ease the symptoms of menopause. Many foods contain nutrients beneficial to premenopausal 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.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.
You’ll have 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, Michael F. Roizen, MD, says in The Real Age Diet. Too much fat in your bloodstream means that arteries won’t open properly and that your muscles won’t get enough oxygen. Balanced vegetarian diets are naturally free of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging animal products that physically slow us down and keep us hitting the snooze button morning after morning. And because whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are so high in complex carbohydrates, they supply the body with plenty of energizing fuel.
You’ll spare 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 of yesteryear where animals roamed freely, today most animals are factory farmed-crammed into cages where they can barely move and fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics. These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’t even turn around. Farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law, in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection.
So rather than asking yourself why go vegetarian, the real question is: Why haven’t you gone vegetarian?