In most western countries, mealtimes traditionally center on a meat dish. The main course proudly dominates the plate, accompanied by a starch of some sort – typically pasta, rice or potatoes. A few vegetables make an appearance as a sort of afterthought.
For many of us (current vegetarians excepted), a meal without meat is like a dance party without a DJ – dull, awkward and pointless. But in many parts of the world, meat is not a major part of the diet – in certain cultures, it is completely forbidden. Yet those who follow strictly vegetarian diets not only survive, they thrive and in fact, they are generally healthier and live longer than people who regularly consume meat.
If you are aiming for a healthier lifestyle, yet you are not at all sure that you could survive without meat in your diet, read on to find out how why going vegetarian is really the healthiest way to nourish your body and mind.
Benefits and negative sides of a vegetarian lifestyle
- Vegetarians have a lower risk of developing serious or life-threatening medical conditions. Studies have consistently shown that vegetarians have a significantly lower risk of developing the following diseases, which are commonly associated with frequent consumption of meat:
- Type II Diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease (including heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Nutrition experts from around the world agree that the modern western-style diet is directly responsible for the massive increase in the number of individuals with chronic and life-threatening medical conditions. Treating these illnesses is enormously expensive and creates a significant economic burden, both for the individual and for the state.
Converting to a vegetarian diet can lower cholesterol levels, reverse coronary disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers by 40 to 50 percent. People who eat vegetarian typically have a much lower percentage of body fat, which lowers the chances of developing type II diabetes.
- A vegetarian diet provides all of the important nutrients without potentially unhealthy animal fats and proteins. Animal proteins have been linked to an increased risk of various types of breast and endometrial cancers, eating large quantities of animal fats can lead to lung, colorectal, and prostate cancer.With a vegetarian diet, you get all the benefits of heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocadoes. Numerous studies have shown that eating plenty of whole grains and legumes (peas, lentils and beans) can provide you with all the protein you need. Green, leafy vegetables are rich in calcium and iron, further eliminating the need for animal products.
It makes sense, that going vegetarian might be better for your long-term health, if you can get all the nutrients you need from plant foods
- Eating a vegetarian diet helps you control your body weight. On average, vegetarians tend to have a lower body weight in relation to their height than meat-eaters, a vegetarian diet consisting of mainly fruits and vegetables has fewer calories and less fat than the average omnivorous diet.This does not mean that simply leaving meat out of your meal planning will make you thinner, eating mounds of macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and non-meat pizza will still make you fat. Vegetarianism requires careful meal planning and a decent amount of common sense, but if you consume a wide range of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, you will soon notice that the pounds seem to be slipping away almost effortlessly.
- Vegetarianism can improve your body image and self-esteem. Consuming a healthy vegetarian diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and heart-healthy oils provides you with the nutritional building blocks you need for optimum physical and mental health. People who convert to vegetarianism frequently report an increase in energy. Vegetarians tend to weigh less and exercise more, which leads to a sense of well-being (possibly due to the increase in endorphin levels which comes with physical activity) and an improved body image.
- Eating plant-based foods is better for the environment Many environmentalists believe that eating only plant-based foods greatly reduces our carbon footprint. Studies have shown that meat production and transportation accounts for more than 18% of greenhouse gases – from the loss of trees which are cut down for pastureland to the release of methane from meat animals to the energy involved in storing and transporting meat products, meat consumption has an enormous impact on the environment.Environmental officials argue that adopting a diet with little or no animal products can have a significant effect on climate change. While it is possible to adhere to a healthy diet which includes small amounts of lean animal proteins, it seems that there is really no advantage to eating meat. Whether you choose to become a vegetarian for ethical or health reasons, plant-based foods can provide all the nutrition you need to stay strong, healthy and active.
- But there are also negative sides. Especially when you are not eating any dairy products you might get a calcium and vitamin d deficiency. You can prevent this by eating dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts), tofu, oranges and sweet potatoes. They are a good plant source for calcium.Be also aware to enrich your diet with vitamin B12. This vitamin can’t be provided by plant food. If you suffer a B12 deficiency, concentration problems, forgetfulness and nerve dysfunction can be the consequence.
Taken together you can say that a vegetarian diet with proper and balanced food choices can support the needed nutritions. Ask your doctor for help to compose with you a healthy diet.