I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t always understood vegetarians. I mean, do they really have to eat so many salads? And how are we supposed to go out for cheesesteaks after work? Relax and live a little, am I right? But as I’ve grown older (and wiser), I’ve come to recognize the 10 million benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Now just to clarify, I’m not talking about your vegetarian coworker whose diet consists of French fries and cheese pizzas. Don’t get me wrong, Frenchfrytarians will definitely reap the financial, ethical, and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.
But the vegetarians who will reap all of the benefits listed below are those whose diets consist of healthy, whole grain foods and loads of fruits and vegetables. Their diets are typically lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins C and E. And that adds up to loads of health benefits!
Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes. One study found that vegetarians’ risk of developing diabetes was half that of nonvegetarians. And that was even after taking body mass index (BMI) into account! Other studies have confirmed that the more meat people consume, the higher their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Lower cholesterol. Studies have also found a vegetarian diet helpful in lowering both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. In fact, one study found their tested vegetarian diet lowered cholesterol almost as well as medication!
- Lower blood pressure. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids.” Not only do these nutrients improve your cholesterol, they also help to lower blood pressure!
- Lower risk of heart disease. Reducing your cardiovascular risk factors, like cholesterol and blood pressure, will decrease your risk for heart disease and heart attacks. A study of over 76,000 participants also found that vegetarians were 25% less likely to die from heart disease.
- Lower risk of developing certain cancers. Hundreds of studies have connected fruit-and-veggie-heavy diets with a reduced risk of developing certain cancers. However, these results may be less about going meatless and more about eating the recommended minimum of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which is much easier to accomplish on a vegetarian diet. It’s difficult to say for sure!
- Lower risk of obesity. A study of 38,000 participants found that vegans, vegetarians, and fish eaters enjoyed lower BMI than meat-eaters. Other studies have shown that vegetarians gain less weigh than meat-eaters over a five-year period.
- Longer life. A vegetarian diet lends itself to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower BMI, all of which decrease your risk for many chronic diseases and increase longevity (lifespan).
Financial Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Save money. Because meat is expensive! Research suggests that the average vegetarian spends at least $750 less on food per year than the average nonvegetarian. Sub in beans, lentils, or vegetarian proteins for meat just a few meals per week and watch the savings stack up.
Ethical Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Avoid ethical conflict. If you’ve recently watched a documentary like Food, Inc., you could be concerned about animal welfare, the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, and more. A vegetarian diet provides a fantastic means of very practically supporting your beliefs!
Environmental Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- Save the environment. Producing vegetarian food is much more economically sustainable than producing meat. It avoids excessive use of environmental resources and reduces damage to the environment. If you’ve been a Planeteer since the 90s (“The power is yours!”), then you know that an earth-friendly diet is a win-win!
Types of Vegetarianism
So…you’re convinced of the benefits of a vegetarian diet, but wondering where to start. The first step is to understand the different types of vegetarianism that exist.
Typically, vegetarians avoid all meat, poultry, and seafood, but consume dairy products, such as milk and cheese. However, depending on your goals and convictions, there are several types of vegetarianism to consider:
Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat and eggs, but consume dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt.
Ovo-vegetarians (or “eggetarians”) avoid meat and dairy products, but consume eggs.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians avoid meat, but consume dairy products and eggs.
Vegans avoid meat, eggs, dairy products, and all other animal products, therefore leaving just plant-based food sources.
Flexitarians eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but sometimes eat meat in small quantities.
Ramping Up to a Vegetarian Diet
Once you’ve decided on the type of vegetarianism you’d like to practice, it’s usually recommended to take gradual steps to change your diet. This will help to make the transition feel more manageable both physically and mentally. It will also increase the chances of it becoming a lifestyle rather than a week-long fling.
Start by scheduling two to three meatless meals a week. (Need ideas? We’ve got you covered! We’ve compiled 50 of the highest rated vegetarian recipes into one place here.) Once you’ve successfully completed a week or two of this, increase your weekly vegetarian meals count by a few more. Continue increasing the number of vegetarian meals per week until you’ve reached official vegetarian status.
If you’d like to pick up the pace, start by eating one vegetarian meal every day for a week. Then increase it to two meals, then three, until every meal and snack is vegetarian.
Not a fan of trying new things? Start with familiar vegetarian foods, like salads or veggie burgers, before diving into a new soy or tofu recipe.
Helpful Guidelines for a Vegetarian Diet
The American Dietetic Association also suggests the following guidelines in planning a healthful vegetarian diet:
- Choose a variety of foods including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and if desired, dairy products, and eggs.
- Choose whole, unrefined foods often. Minimize the intake of highly sweetened, fatty and heavily refined foods.
- Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- If animal foods such as dairy products and eggs are used, choose lower-fat dairy products. Use both eggs and dairy products in moderation.
- Use a regular source of vitamin B-12 and, if sunlight exposure is limited, of vitamin D.
Wrap It Up
With a long list of health, financial, ethical, and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet, you really can’t go wrong giving it a try! Just remember to take it gradually and foods things healthy and balanced.
Have any tips for vegetarian newbies? Or maybe some questions that weren’t addressed in this post? Be sure to share in the comments below!
P.S. Ready to dive in feet first? Then be sure to download our free list of 50 highly rated vegetarian recipes here!
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