Can A Meatless Diet Really Change Your Health?

More and more people are turning to a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons. With research supporting the benefits of eating a primarily vegetarian diet it's worth considering the benefits of making the change in lifestyle.

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I have to confess right from the start that I do not eat meat of any kind. I’ve been vegan/vegetarian on and off for most of my life, and right now I consider myself to be a selective vegetarian. My diet is primarily vegan, but I add the occasional egg or cheese ingredient if I know and approve of exactly where it was sourced. My choice to eat a plant-based diet is primarily ethical, but I also love the health benefits. Most of the people I meet are intrigued by what they consider to be a restricted diet of vegetables and grains, and then they express their unwavering conviction to eating cheese and hamburgers. Change is hard enough for most people, but giving up the things we derive pleasure from is even harder. In case you’re unclear, vegans don’t eat, use or wear any animal products. Vegetarians basically don’t eat meat. Both vegans and vegetarians make this lifestyle choice based on ethics, health, and even religious reasons. Eating a primarily vegetarian diet has had an upswing in recent years with 9 million U.S. adults maintaining a vegetarian diet as of 2012 according to the Vegan Outreach website. They also reported an increase in veganism based on Google trends and increased search results for the term “veganism 2013”. There is a significant amount of research supporting the health benefits of a plant based diet including cancer prevention and reduced cardiac related illnesses according to Heart disease kills 600,000 people every year, and Cancer is the #2 cause of death among Americans with 30% of those cancers being diet related. More specifically research shows that eating too much red meat can increase the risk of specific types of cancer including bowl and pancreatic. Then there are the issues related to the environment including increased greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare, and the depletion of natural resources. The toll that slaughterhouses are taking on the planet cannot be ignored and have to be factored in to anyone’s decision to eat meat or shift to a plant-based diet. We have a funny relationship to our food in America. Even though we have access to some of the best food, and we are the most educated about health, we struggle with weight more than any other country, and we also produce the largest amount of waste. Nutrition in your body is like gas in your car yet most of us are way more concerned with the quality of gas we use to fill up our car engines than we are with what food we put in our systems. Food is also a great source of pleasure, and it can even be addictive in the same way a drug would be. So is a plant-based diet the way to go? Can we feel fulfilled and satisfied if we eliminate meat from our diets? Are we willing to compromise our own pleasure seeking behaviors for the earth?

Pros and Cons

Clearly the statistics show that eating a primarily vegetarian diet is an all around good choice. It’s better for your health, prevents disease, and helps reduce the impact modern day agriculture has on the environment. Becoming vegan or vegetarian also opens up a whole new world of possibility. New foods, recipes and even friends develop when you embark on this new relationship to food. Moving to a plant-based diet is also great for your mental health because it taps into a sense of compassion and empathy for other living beings, and it also generates a new sense of awareness around important issues related to sustainability and ecology. The downside of becoming vegan or vegetarian would primarily be related to the change in lifestyle it might require. While there are more and more vegetarian options on most menus, finding something suitable and satisfying can be difficult particularly if you are used to eating rich (and often addictive) foods. It also requires more advance preparation since plant-based food is often made fresh and eaten immediately. Fast food and quick grab items frequently contain meat products so cooking and preparing your own food would become a bigger part of your lifestyle. There are some theories that certain body types need meat for optimal functioning. The jury is out on this simply because there are too many factors to consider and the coin can continuously be flipped in favor of a vegetable centric versus meat centric diet. Whether you’re an athlete, suffer with anemia, or simply feel sluggish when you don’t have “protein”, it’s always best to consult a professional for the best dietary needs for you personally.

Fit or Flop

Putting any specific health requirements aside eating a plant-based diet is definitely a fit. Even if you shift to eating a vegetarian meal one to two times a week you would be vastly improving both your physical and mental wellbeing. Testing the waters of vegetarianism can be a slow process or it can be an occasional change you make as part of a cleanse or weight loss program. As with any change, gradual transformation is most sustainable so don’t over-commit and start slow. The Meatless Monday website is a great place to start a weekly commitment to a plant-based diet.

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