Despite the many benefits of being vegetarian becoming more widely known in recent years and various trendy diets touting its praises, that ultimately hasn’t done much to convince the world’s many meat eaters to put aside their rotting flesh (delicious though it may be) for far healthier plant-based meals.
Just 5% of Americans reported being vegetarian according to a 2018 Gallup poll, unchanged from six years earlier and actually down slightly from 1999, when 6% of Americans claimed that title. Those who are strictly vegan, a subset of vegetarianism that Gallup began tracking in 2012, ticked up slightly to 3% from 2% during that six-year period.
Vegetarianism is making some headway among younger eaters, with 7-8% of 18-49-year-olds being vegetarians and the sales of plant-based foods are rising quickly, growing by 8.1% in 2017. So while more people appear to be putting in an effort to eat a little healthier, they’re not yet willing to go all the way and live off a meat-free diet.
Our time-starved, fast-food society certainly doesn’t make it easy on people trying to eat healthier, promising quick, supposedly cheap meals that are ready to roll off a production line and straight into your growling stomach.
Nonetheless, the many benefits of being a vegetarian are worth fighting for. Let’s take a look at the benefits of being a vegetarian, that offer compelling evidence for why meat consumption should be relegated to the annals of history.
1. You’ll Help Protect the Environment
The environmental benefit of going vegetarian is immense and could save the planet from disastrous climate change according to multiple studies which suggest that meat consumption needs to drop by as much as 90% in some countries, namely major beef-eating nations like the U.S, Canada, Australia, and Brazil.
It’s estimated that livestock production now accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 50% more than the amount produced by all the planes, trains, and automobiles on the planet and only slightly less than all of the world’s energy production.
Beef is by far the biggest culprit, with a half-pound of beef producing the equivalent of 7.4 pounds of CO2, about 4x more than half a pound of pork. Yet even pork production dwarfs many fruits and vegetables in the amount of emissions it contributes, as apples and potatoes produce as little as 0.13 pounds of CO2 per half-pound of food.
2. Meat Consumption is Linked to Numerous Serious Health Concerns
One of the top reasons to be vegetarian is not that fruits and veggies are so good for you (they are), but that eating meat is likewise just as bad for you.
The benefits of not eating meat include drastically lowering your risk of suffering from some of the deadliest conditions that affect humanity, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
In a meta-study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, it was found that vegetarians who hadn’t stuffed any meat into their faces in at least 17 years had a life expectancy that was close to 5% higher than the general population, living for an additional 3.6 years.
That’s no surprise given that the World Health Organization recently labeled processed meat, which is heavily consumed in Western countries, as a Group 1 carcinogen on par with smoking cigarettes or being exposed to asbestos. Red meat is particular threat, with regular consumption increasing one’s risk of ischemic stroke by nearly 50%, as well as the incidence rate of breast cancer in women by 22%.
3. Being a Vegetarian is Cheaper
It’s often argued that more people don’t eat healthy because it’s more expensive to do so. However, several studies have determined that claim is nothing more than a juicy myth.
The federal government does heavily subsidize the production of food sources like corn and soy that often end up being converted into unhealthy food additives like high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils, driving down their costs and making junk food cheaper. Between 1995 and 2016, 40% of U.S farm subsidies were for corn and soy, while a mere 1% went to fruits and vegetables.
It is true that on a per-calorie basis, unhealthy foods may be slightly cheaper, precisely because they tend to be densely packed with empty calories. However, several studies rightly point out that getting the most caloric bang for your buck is a misleading method of judging value, as unhealthy foods don’t promote satiety, causing eaters to consume far more calories and thus negate those benefits.
More importantly, there is no comparison in their cost-to-nutrient ratio, which is the measure that should be considered far more vital. Among the most affordable fruits and vegetables are potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, oranges, bananas, and grapefruit.
4. You’ll Shed Some of Those Pesky Extra Pounds
Losing weight is one of the best examples of what happens to your body when you go vegetarian. As noted above, plant-based foods are far less calorie-dense than unhealthier alternatives, which is evidenced by the waistlines of each type of eater. Non vegetarians have by far the greatest body mass index at an average of 28.8. Semi-vegetarians (people that eat a little bit of meat) are lower at 27.3, while full-blown vegetarians and vegans are far lower still, with vegans clocking in at just 23.6.
Overall, meat eaters have triple the obesity rates of vegetarians and a whopping 9x the rate of vegans, the latter of whom are an average of 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat eaters, showcasing one of the most intriguing benefits of being vegetarian for anyone who wants to look and feel good.
5. You Probably Won’t Get Sick from Your Food
Another one of the most prominent advantages of vegetarian food over non-vegetarian food is that you’re far less likely to suffer food poisoning after ingesting it. Contaminated meat is the leading cause of food-borne illness, which is often caused by fecal contamination or bacteria.
As if fish weren’t worrisome enough food sources given the dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins lurking unseen in their flesh, they’re also the leading cause of food poisoning, being responsible for 17% of those cases in 2015 according to the CDC. Beef, pork, mollusk, and chicken each amounted to at least 7% of the cases or more.
Fruits and vegetables aren’t completely harmless themselves, as each accounted for 7% of the cases, while grains/beans amounted to 4%.
6. You Won’t Develop Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern in the medical community due to the over prevalence of antibiotic usage. This is the case with humans, which are increasingly being overprescribed antibiotics for minor issues, but especially with factory-farmed animals, which are fed antibiotics to keep them alive in their disease-ridden environments.
Close to 70% of antibiotic usage in the U.S is for animals that end up on our dinner plates, raising our own risk of antibiotic resistance to deadly conditions like blood infections.
7. You’ll Have Better Moods
Eating more fresh vegetables and less decaying animal flesh will lower your depression and improve your mood according to study data, and not just because you’ll spare yourself the guilt of contemplating all the innocent animal lives that were vanquished so you could enjoy a nice meal.
One of the reasons is likely due to the decreased consumption of omega-6, which is found prominently in red meat, poultry, and some fish (though most fish has an abundance of omega-3s to balance out the omega-6). Omega-6 has been linked to increased depression in past studies as well as to greater inflammation, which itself has been linked to depression and bipolar disorder.
8. You Won’t Be Loaded Up With Hormones
When you consume animal meat, you’re not only consuming the hormones they naturally produce, but also the artificial ones being fed to them en masse to increase how quickly they grow. These hormones can throw our own natural hormone balance out of whack, with meat consumption being fingered as a possible cause for the dramatic decline in male testosterone levels over the past few decades.
9. You Could Experience Less Pain
Inflammation is the leading cause of arthritic and other pain and meat consumption is one of the major causes of such inflammation due to its high saturated fat content. Thus, overconsumption of meat can lead to chronic inflammation, boosting the prevalence and intensity of pain and also increasing one’s risk for contracting serious conditions like heart disease and cancer.
All told, there are many great benefits to being a vegetarian that will hopefully convince more people to eat better, improving the health of their own bodies and the planet.