Vegetarianism as a way of life began in the ’60s as a counter-culture movement. The ideas behind it stemmed from a rejection of the idea that humans must kill other animals in order to survive.
Since then, the pendulum has swung back and forth a few times between the notion that eating a vegetarian diet is better for your health as well as your conscience.
A recent study leans decidedly on one side: there are definitely solid health advantages to abstaining from eating meat and animal products.
In this huge body of research that included over 73,000 people over more than five years, researchers at Loma Linda University in California found:
“Vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and with some reductions in cause-specific mortality…The possible relationship between diet and mortality remains an important area of investigation. Previous studies have identified dietary factors associated with mortality. Those found to correlate with reduced mortality include nuts, fruit, cereal fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), ω-3PUFAs, green salad, Mediterranean dietary patterns…plant-based diet scores, plant-based low-carbohydrate diets, and vegetarian diets. Associations with increased mortality have been found for a high glycemic [sugar] load, meat, red meat, processed meat, eggs, potatoes, increased energy intake, and animal-based low-carbohydrate diets.”
Generally, a vegetarian diet will promote longevity. But how?
1. Blood pressure
Vegetarians have lower blood pressure than carnivores. Switching to a vegetarian diet can lower blood pressure in those with hypertension.
Several studies have found a correlation between lower cancer risk and a vegetarian diet. In one such study of almost three thousand subjects, vegans and vegetarians showed a significantly lower incidence of cancer, most notably of gastrointestinal and female-specific cancers of the ovaries and breast. Its conclusion:
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“Vegetarian diets seem to confer protection against cancer.”
Protection from cancer. Sounds fantastic. Even better, many plants have been found to treat and even CURE cancer. No such claims can be made for increasing the volume of animal products in the diet.
The Loma Linda study found a twelve percent lower mortality rate in vegetarians among cohorts. Lower cholesterol and saturated fat that lead to atherosclerosis is assumed to be a huge contributing factor.
Expanding on the ramifications of this condition, vegetarianism can by extension help prevent many chronic diseases.
Too much animal protein can contribute to the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Reducing or eliminating animal protein can not only reduce your risk but switching to a vegetarian diet can treat the disease if you already suffer from it.
5. Heart Disease
Associated with high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol, and atherosclerosis, animal products consumed in excess can contribute to the development of heart disease–still a leading killer in the U.S. A large 2013 study found that vegetarians were thirty-two percent less likely to develop heart disease than their meat-eating counterparts.
A study published in 2012 found that a vegetarian diet improved mood significantly when compared to omnivores. That doesn’t mean you should reach for a cookie when you’re feeling down–rather, restrict or exclude meat (including fish) intake and replace with fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins to feel better overall.
Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight. A combination of factors contribute to this fact, not the least of which is simply that over-consumption of meat provides more calories than the same volume of plant-based food. What your body doesn’t use as fuel or purge as waste gets stored as fat. Obesity lends itself to a plethora of diseases and physical and emotional difficulties.
Moderation is important; the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of a diet richer in plant foods than animal products is in every way firmly established.
There are nutrients that you can get through diet only from animal sources, like vitamin B12. On the other side, there are nutrients you can only get from plants.
Strict vegetarianism may not be right for you, and arguably one can contend that humans were built to be omnivores. There are, however, certainly health considerations that should be taken into account when consuming meat.
There is no indication that humans need to eat meat every day or even a few times a week. You can find the balance that works for you–your body will tell you what it needs and likes if you intently listen.