The diet we choose impacts all aspects of our health and affects our environment. People from various backgrounds and cultures have been going vegetarian. (Check out our Famous Vegetarians section to find out more). The vegetarian and vegan diets are fast becoming mainstream. The question today is no longer “Why are you a vegetarian or a vegan?” but, “Why are you not?”
Research has linked the vegetarian diet to longevity: “According to a Loma Linda University study, vegetarians live about seven years longer and vegans about fifteen years longer than meat eaters” (Arran Stephens, The Compassionate Diet). A vegetarian or vegan diet, when comprised of nutritious whole foods, has a significant impact on health. To ensure good health, merely selecting foods that don’t contain animal products is not enough. After all, some of the best-selling cookies are vegan! Fruits and vegetables are always a better choice to fulfill a craving for sweets.
In addition to safeguarding our health, choosing a vegetarian diet helps the environment. In our quest to provide food for 8 billion people on our planet, we need to protect our water supply, the quality of our air, and the interconnectedness of life.
Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions concerning reasons to choose a whole food, plant-based diet:
According to a recent report from UNESCO, without significant global policy change, the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030. In terms of food production, it takes 15,500 liters of water to produce 1 kg beef, contrasted with 180 liters for 1 kg tomatoes and 250 liters for 1 kg potatoes.
To produce one day’s food for one meat-eater takes over 4,000 gallons of water; for a lactovegetarian (no meat, fish or eggs but includes milk products), only 1,200 gallons; for vegans (also no milk products), only 300 gallons. Thus, it takes less water to produce one year’s food for one vegan than to produce one month’s food for one meat-eater. (from “Diet for a New America,” by John Robbins.)
If current dietary habits and trends continue, by 2050 we will experience a 51% increase in current levels of environmental markers like greenhouse gas emissions, CO2, rising temperatures, and an increased carbon footprint associated with food production.
These factors are based on current trends in global population growth and on the fact that as populations get wealthier, people tend to eat more meat. Between now and 2050, a global switch to diets that rely far less on meat and far more on vegetables, fruits, and other plant foods could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.
According to a Harvard Medical School publication, “plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for much chronic illness” (Harvard Health, December 4, 2017). In one of the largest studies that combined data from five studies involving more than 76,000 participants, vegetarians were 25% less likely to die of heart disease. Research also suggested that a predominantly plant-based diet could reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by 50%.
Eating a vegetarian diet is definitely healthier than eating a standard American diet. Plant foods are low in saturated fat and high in the essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. Many studies have also shown that a plant-based diet can lower chances of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease as well as lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. (check out our article Health Benefits of a Vegan Lifestyle to learn more)
The vegetarian diet has a calming effect and improved mental and emotional health. Two studies conducted by Bonnie Beezhold and published in the Nutrition Journal (2010 and 2012) found that after 2 weeks, people who regularly ate meat or chicken daily reported better moods and less stress after switching to a vegetarian diet. One reason seems to be that meat contains a long-chain of omega-6 (n-6) fatty acid (arachidonic acid) that is associated with depressive symptoms.
One study, published in Nutrition Journal in 2010, looked at the mental health and mood of vegetarians and meat eaters. This study found that vegetarian participants had healthier mood profiles and were less likely to report depression than participants who ate meat.
Assuming everyone were to switch to a vegetarian diet by 2050, such a change would have a huge economic impact. Not only would nations experience reduced health care costs, but also costs we are now incurring from climate change events could be reduced up to $31 trillion. This marks the conclusion of a major new study published in PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in March 2016.
Because children need higher nutrition for their physical and mental development, is a vegetarian diet suitable for children?
Research by the American Dietetic Association shows that the vegetarian diet benefits children and teens because they eat less cholesterol, saturated and total fat, and also eat more fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. (PCRM – Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, pcrm.org). Please speak to your nutritionist for additional information.