Vegetarians and vegans of all backgrounds often face scrutiny in regards to their views and choice in eating. “Why are you vegetarian/vegan? What’s the point? You know you need your protein, right?” So many questions, so many answers. As a vegetarian, I wanted to try and dissolve some of the ambiguity and misconceptions about vegetarianism/veganism, as well as to try and supply some facts to the reader about the potential benefits of going vegetarian or vegan.
Like most Americans, I grew up eating meat (e.g. pork, beef, chicken, fish, you name it) and was told that it was a necessary part of a person’s diet. “You need the protein,” my mom would always tell me. “You’re a growing boy, eat your meat.” Not that I had any problem eating the food that was served on my plate, and in fact my mother was an excellent cook (most likely owing to the fact that my grandfather was a chef), but there came a point even at that early stage of my life when I started to question what was on my plate. I grew up in a family with a lot of animals that I cared for and to me they were no different from any other animal encountered in nature. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was eating a once living creature. I didn’t stop eating my meat because of it, though. I did what any other young kid would do in the same situation where the food is “convenient” and “good-tasting.” In other words, the guilt was still there but it was repressed to preserve my sense of righteousness and to continue to finish what was on my plate as I was taught to do. The reason I bring this up is because I suspect that most other people were brought up in this way and at some point or another likely had the same kind of thoughts running through their mind. It wasn’t until later that I learned that these ideas and beliefs about meat and protein were highly exaggerated and fallacious. I believe that the only reason that so many people still eat meat is because it’s convenient, it tastes good to them and most people don’t know the true facts because it isn’t talked about because, well, most people eat meat themselves and see no issue in the first place. In fact, when I found out about all of the real facts about meat, it were as if a huge veil had been lifted from my head. All in all, it was pretty shocking to tell you the truth.
Here are some basic facts:
Most Americans eat more protein than their bodies need (I’ve heard as much as two to as high as seven times the amount that we should normally be getting per day).
Eating animal foods packed with high protein as well as high saturated fat significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer. Those who cannot use excess protein effectively may be at higher risk of kidney and liver disorders, and osteoporosis.
High-carbohydrate, high fiber plant-foods actually help lower cholesterol when eaten as part of a nutritionally-balanced diet.
There are plenty of vegetarian/vegan protein sources available, including: tempeh, tofu, seitan, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, quinoa, TVP, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, rice, lima beans, veggie burgers, veggie dogs, black eyed peas, peanut butter, almond butter, soy milk, vegan protein powders, hummus, soy yogurt, fortified foods like some breakfast cereals, amaranth, spirulina, chorella, split peas, etc.
According to the National Cancer Institute, red meat consumption is directly related to heightened cancer risk, particularly colorectal cancer.
Overall, researchers found elevated risks for colorectal and lung cancer with high consumption of both meat types (i.e. both red and lean meats) along with borderline higher risks for advanced prostate cancer. High red meat intake was also associated with increased risk of esophageal and liver and a borderline increased risk for laryngeal cancer. And high processed meat consumption also was associated with borderline increased risk for bladder cancer and myeloma, a kind of bone cancer. In addition, both red meat and processed meat consumption were associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk in men, but not women.
In addition to the health benefits, a major reduction in the eating of red meat would probably have a host of other benefits to society which includes: reducing water shortages and pollution, cutting energy consumption, and tamping down greenhouse gas emissions — all of which are associated with large-scale livestock production.
You’ll live a lot longer by cutting out meat from your diet. Vegetarians live about seven years longer, and vegans (who eat no animal products) about 15 years longer than meat eaters, according to a study from Loma Linda University. These findings are backed up by the China Health Project (the largest population study on diet and health to date), which found that Chinese people who eat the least amount of fat and animal products have the lowest risks of cancer, heart attack and other chronic degenerative diseases. And a British study that tracked 6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 meat eaters for 12 years found that vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to die from cancer during that time and 20 percent less likely to die from other diseases.
You’ll save your heart by cutting out meat from your diet. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in the United States, and the standard American diet (SAD) that’s laden with saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy is largely to blame. Children as young as age 3 who are raised on fast food and junk food show early signs of heart disease, according to the Bogalusa Heart Study done at the Louisiana State University. Cardiovascular disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. Heart attacks are also deadlier to the fairer sex: 53 percent of women who have heart attacks die from them, compared with 47 percent of men. Today, the average American male eating a meat-based diet has a 50 percent chance of dying from heart disease. His risk drops to 15 percent if he cuts out meat; it goes to 4 percent if he cuts out meat, dairy and eggs. Partly responsible is the fact that fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidant nutrients that protect the heart and its arteries. Plus, produce contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Incidentally, cholesterol levels for vegetarians are 14 percent lower than meat eaters.
You can put more money in your mutual fund. Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
You’ll give your body a spring cleaning. Giving up meat helps purge the body of toxins (pesticides, environmental pollutants, preservatives) that overload our systems and cause illness. When people begin formal detoxification programs, their first step is to replace meats and dairy products with fruits and vegetables and juices. “These contain phytochemicals that help us detox naturally,” says Chris Clark, M.D., medical director of The Raj, an Ayurvedic healing center in Fairfield, Iowa, which specializes in detox programs.
Aside from reduced cancer risk and other more general health benefits, many report that upon switching to vegetarianism or veganism, they seem to have a lot more energy during the day and feel less tired. Mike Tyson on becoming vegan: “it’s been eight months with this vegan stuff, but I get these explosions of energy. I don’t know how long they last, but they’re like explosions. So powerful.” Also, in the last year of his life, Einstein said: “So I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way. It always seems to me that man was not born to be a carnivore.” Since becoming vegetarian about a year ago, I myself can profess to feeling more energetic and in a more general state of well-being than when I incorporated meat into my diet. A lot of vegetarians and vegans chose their diets because of moral reasons (i.e. objecting to eating meat in the hopes of saving animals), but I wanted to give some objective rather than subjective reasons as to why being vegetarian and vegan is so beneficial.
If you might be considering vegetarianism or veganism, I would suggest trying to limit red meats to once every few days, then doing the same for leaner meats like chicken and fish. After that, try eating meat only a few times a week and see how you fare. Then go an entire week without meat. It’s my opinion that if you can go one to two weeks without eating any meat, becoming vegetarian will be virtually effortless (the true challenge is to become vegan if you choose to do so, hehe). Limiting meat or cutting it completely out of your diet is a challenge, but its effects are nothing short of amazing, and trust me, you won’t be missing it after long. There are so many alternatives made from soy protein that taste just like meat and are no where near as unhealthy for you long-term that you will never consider regular meat…. ever. No lie. As hard as I tried to not make this post seem as if I were trying to convert you to vegetarianism or veganism and were just supplying you the facts, the truth is that I am. I wish many people better health and well-being and I see this as a crucial first-step towards just that. Another reason is that I care a lot for animals and believe that their well-being is an important part of preserving nature and preventing further degradation and destruction of the planet’s environment. Well…. that’s all I have to say for now. I hope you’ve found this post to be helpful and/or informative. Thanks for reading.