There are a multitude of reasons that motivate many people to choose a meatless diet. The reasons include health, environmental, religious, ethical and even financial concerns.
Some choose to eat a vegetarian diet based purely on centuries old philosophical teachings, while others commit to this healthy diet simply because of the proven health benefits.
Here are the most common reasons for choosing to eat vegetarian:
Health Benefits of a Meatless Diet
Studies show that a vegetarian diet provides several important health benefits and can prevent chronic disease. People are increasingly conscious of the benefits of health and exercise, especially with the current research data that shows lifestyle choices are key in preventing serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
• Prevents chronic disease – People who eat a plant-based diet generally have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. They typically have lower risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancers, while those who consume meat on a regular basis are at a higher risk.
• Lower risk for heart disease – One study (Tim Key, Director Of The Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University Of Oxford, et al) looked at 45,000 volunteers (34% of whom were vegetarians) and showed clear findings that vegetarians have a 1/3 lower risk for heart disease than non-vegetarians.
• Live longer – The National Institutes Of Health funded a study (the Adventist Health Study 2) that allowed Loma Linda University of Loma Linda, California to continue ongoing research conducted into Seventh-day Adventists who adopted the vegetarian diet. The study included 96,000 people from Canada and the United States.
It was discovered that vegetarian men live an average of 9.5 years longer and that vegetarian women live an average of 6.1 years longer than meat eaters do. Pesco-vegetarians and semi-vegetarians who eat meat only once or twice a week were found to have intermediate protection against lifestyle diseases.
Dr. Michael F. Roizen, author of the book, Real Age Diet: Make Yourself Younger With What You Eat, says that you can add about 13 healthy years to your life with a plant based diet because animal foods clog heart arteries, destroy energy levels, and impact the health of the immune system.
A 30-year study of the residents of Okinawa, Japan who have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese, reported that the main stays of their diet was fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and soy.
• Weight management – The Adventist Health Study 2 also showed that people who eat meat have a higher body weight for their age while vegans typically have the lowest and on average are 30 pounds lighter. Vegans are also five units lighter on the BMI scale than those who eat meat.
• Less insulin resistance – According to the study, both vegetarians and vegans are less insulin resistant than meat-eaters, thereby having a much lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
• Avoid allergies – Vegetarians are less likely to develop food allergies.
• Avoid ingesting growth hormones – Vegetarians as well as strict vegans who never eat meat, fish or poultry, don’t consume the growth hormones and antibiotics that are administered to farm animals raised for food production.
• Better mood and increased energy – High intake of plant foods result in better moods, huge boosts in energy, and feelings of calm and happiness.
• Prevent cancer– Plant foods contain essential antioxidants that prevent cell damage that can destroy cells or lead to mutations that cause various cancers.
• Ease menopausal symptoms – Plant foods are rich in phytoestrogens which are chemical compounds that mimic the behavior of estrogen. A healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone levels in the diet facilitates a more comfortable passage through menopause. Soy, a staple of the vegan diet is especially high in phytoestrogens, along with other plant foods like cherries, olives, berries, and apples.
Additionally, vegetarian diets promote healthy weight management with a low fat, high fiber diet that can help prevent the typical weight gain experience by many menopausal women.
• Boost libido – Plant foods contain libido-boosting properties. Vegetarian diets result in lower body weight that increases the release of sex hormones.
• Reduce the risk of contracting food-borne illnesses – The Centers For Disease Control reports that there are 76 cases of food-borne illnesses each year in the United States that results in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the main sources of food-borne illnesses are meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
• Avoid toxic chemicals – The EPA estimates that nearly 95% of the pesticide residue in a typical American diet stems from meat, dairy and fish. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens and heavy metals that cannot be eliminated through cooking or freezing. Sometimes, meat and dairy foods may be laced with hormones and steroids which makes it that much more important to read food labels.
• Boost digestive health – Eating a high fiber plant diet improves and supports digestive health and helps to prevent hemorrhoids, constipation, and diverticulitis.
Religious Reasons for Not Eating Meat
Some religions are known for their avoidance of meat. These include Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Seventh Day Adventists.
Hindus believe that by avoiding meat, they are fulfilling their religious obligations. They also avoid meat because of their belief in Karmic consequences.
Jainism is an Indian religious that teaches the avoidance of killing or harming any living creature, and thereby receive liberation of the soul.
Buddhists don’t eat meat, while others do, depending on their interpretation of Buddhist laws and traditions.
Seventh-day Adventists are either lacto-ovo vegetarians who avoid meat, but eat eggs and dairy or vegans. The philosophy behind this religion’s recommendation to avoid meat is clearly stated as “we believe God calls us to care for our bodies, treating them with the respect a divine creation deserves. Gluttony and excess, even of something good, can be detrimental to our health.”
Environmental concerns are important to some people who are at issue with large areas of land that are needed to raise meat-producing animals, especially cattle. The belief is that the land could be better put to better use with the production of crops for consumption. Crops, like other plants, help to prevent soil erosion and ecological balance.
Plus, commercial animal waste that is not properly disposed of can end up in rivers and eventually contaminate ground water supplies.
Environmental activists also advocate that overgrazing may negatively affect wildlife species. Areas that wildlife inhabit are sometimes sacrificed for the use of raising animals for food.
Another issue is that natural predators contribute to a healthy eco-system, but are eliminated to protect domestic cattle from predation. This can also cause an imbalance in the eco-system, according to activists.
Another popular issue is the belief that eliminating the emissions of greenhouse gases caused by livestock will lower the world’s overall greenhouse gas accumulation.
Ethical reasons has motivated some people to stop eating meat and meat products because of the advanced farming techniques in developed countries. Some of the irresponsible treatment of farm animals that are grown for human food consumption is a major point among animal rights advocates.
Did you know that meat accounts for 10% of most American’s food budgets? Replacing the nearly 200 pounds of meat non-vegetarians consume yearly with vegetables, grains, and fruits can cut the average food bill by about $4,000 a year.
While there are many reasons for people to choose to eat a meatless diet, by and large, the most popular in contemporary culture is the superior health benefits that can be enjoyed by eating a vegetarian diet.