Top 10 Health Benefits of Vegetarianism
More than 7 million of us in America follow a vegetarian diet and although many people become vegetarian for animal welfare or environmental reasons, switching to a vegetarian diet is one of the best things you can do to protect your health. If you have considered cutting meat out of your diet, but you haven’t yet taken action, after reading the following 10 benefits of a diet focused on plant-based foods, you’ll have the motivation you need to finally ditch meat for good.
You will find it easier to stay a healthy weight
Obesity is still a growing problem in the US, but when you are vegetarian, your chances of being overweight are far lower than someone who eats meat, which is particularly the case if you follow a completely plant-based diet. This is because plant produce, with the exception of nuts and seeds, are lower in calories and also higher in fiber, which helps you to keep fuller for longer, so you’re less likely to snack in between meals. Even when you include higher fat items, such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olives, regularly as part of a vegetarian diet, you’re still likely to consume fewer calories than someone who eats meat daily.
You can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
More than 25 million people in America have diabetes and most of these cases are of type 2 diabetes, which is usually triggered by an unhealthy lifestyle. However, there is evidence that if you follow a largely plant-based diet, you are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A diet rich in vegetables and whole grains is protective and even though a vegan diet offers most benefit, vegetarians that still eat eggs and dairy produce are less prone to type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters. The lower glycemic index of vegetarian diets and their positive effect on weight probably explains this finding, but the protective nutrients in plant produce may also play a role.
You can benefit from lower blood pressure
Focusing on a diet rich in plant produce can also keep your blood pressure under control. Indeed, this was what researchers at Loma Linda University found, with vegetarians less likely to receive a diagnosis of high blood pressure than non-vegetarians. As fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and nuts are rich in potassium, which counteracts the effects of blood pressure raising sodium, it’s not surprising that vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressures.
Your cholesterol level will fall
Vegetarian diets aren’t just lower in saturated fat, but they may also help to keep your cholesterol in check because they include a range of foods known to lower cholesterol. For instance, when focusing on a vegetarian eating plan you are more likely to include soy, pulses, nuts and plant foods, which are naturally rich in soluble fiber, stanols and sterols, all of which feature in the portfolio diet promoted for its cholesterol-lowering ability.
Keeping active becomes easier
Besides a healthy diet, taking regular exercise also promotes better health. However, low energy levels are often given as a reason why people are not as physically active as they would like. This isn’t a problem following a vegetarian diet though, as with its far higher carbohydrate content and typically lower glycemic index, you have can easily meet your energy needs for exercise. You’ll also have more energy for activities in your daily life and can reap the benefits of greater mental alertness too.
You are less likely to develop cancer
Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that vegetarians have a lower risk of developing cancer than meat-eaters. Greater intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains by vegetarians, which are high in antioxidants – nutrients that may offer protection against cancer – may explain this finding. However, as high fat diets and weight gain are also associated with certain cancers, these are another two reasons why vegetarians seem less susceptible to cancer.
You can expect to live longer
As diets high in animal protein are linked to a shorter lifespan, it’s good to know that getting your protein from pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains most of the time could help you to live longer. Researchers at the University of Utah who conducted the research into the effect of high protein intakes on longevity believe that animal proteins activate certain growth factors that influence cell death.
You reduce inflammation within your body
If you want to reduce your risk of chronic health problems, an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best ways to do so. This is because inflammation plays a role in everything from the development of circulatory diseases and type 2 diabetes to arthritis and cancer. Following a vegetarian diet is an easy way to reduce inflammation within your body, as items such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, barley and quinoa have anti-inflammatory properties, while animal proteins and processed grains encourage inflammation.
You will have better digestive health
It’s far easier to meet your daily fiber needs when you place a greater emphasis on plant-based foods, so it’s no surprise that vegetarians have a lower incidence of health problems associated with a lack of dietary fiber. Not only does this help to prevent constipation, but by doing so you are less likely to suffer from hemerrhoids, diverticular disease or colorectal cancer.
You will have less severe menopausal symptoms
If you are nearing the menopause, a vegetarian diet that is rich in soy can help you to cope better with menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and sweats during the night. This is thanks to the phytoestrogens that soy contains, as these have mildly estrogenic properties, helping to compensate for falling estrogen levels around the menopause. Besides helping to keep your symptoms under control, items such as soy beans, soy milk and yogurt, and tofu, may also have a protective effect on your bones and cholesterol level, both of which can take a turn for the worse when you reach the menopause.