Those who have chosen to go vegetarian — and then who transition to vegan — appreciate knowing that their food choices can not only be tasty and healthy, but compassionate and humane as well. Not to mention the enormous benefit of whole-food plant-based diet to our rapidly deteriorating environment.
Did you know that vegan diets:
...are arguably the most healthy way to eat. Numerous studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower rates of obesity (a significant and timely point, now that our nation has become so fat, with 300,000 Americans dying each year of obesity-related diseases, according to our Surgeon General), heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and adult-onset diabetes.
...give their practitioners the edge against cancer. Studies show that death rates from cancer are much lower than those experienced by the general population. Research has shown that vegetarians have a stronger immune system, possibly due to higher than average intake of vitamin-packed vegetables, grains, and legumes. Fiber-rich plant-based diets may reduce the risk of cancers of the digestive organs.
...help guard against gender-related cancers such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, and prostate cancer.
...protect against heart disease. Health experts agree that eating foods high fiber and complex carbohydrates can help reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, plant-based proteins reduce cholesterol levels, while animal protein raises them.
...help avoid some of the most virulent forms of food-borne illnesses caused by e coli, salmonella, and listera. Food-borne illness, a majority related to contaminated meat, sickens 750,000 Americans each year enough to send them to hospitals (this doesn't count unreported cases) and is believed to kill about 5,000. Food-borne illness is particularly dangerous to children, whose immune systems may not be developed enough to withstand the dangers of contaminated meat products. Other benefits of plant-based diets are numerous and include:
Weight control: It's hard to get fat—or stay fat—on a balanced vegetarian diet. Grains, legumes, many types of vegetables, and soyfoods are bulky and filling, yet contain little or no fat. They provide a feeling of fullness that keeps the body fueled and satisfied for hours.
Economy: It's hard to match the economic value of bulk grains and legumes supplemented with fresh produce carefully chosen in season. Even a ready-to-eat food such as tofu aver ages about $1.75 a pound—less expensive than quality meats and fish. Variety: Those who eliminate meat almost inevitably discover a world of diverse foods. And diversity is not only fun and appetizing, it's also a healthful way to eat, ensuring a balance of essential nutrients.
Ecology: Many environmentally aware consumers derive satisfaction from "eating low on the food chain" —that is, getting the bulk of their diets from plant-based foods. It's not only good for the body, reducing the intake of pesticide and animal antibiotic residues, but also for the planet as livestock deplete enormous land and water resources. Consider that:
- Raising livestock contributes to the loss of millions of tons of irreplaceable topsoil each year.
- It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, as compared to 390 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
- Livestock produce massive amounts of excrement, which has been shown to pollute soil, water, and air.
Compassion: Animal agribusiness is one of the cruelest practices imaginable. Millions of sentient creatures are subject to confinement, overcrowding, disfigurement (as in the common practice of debeaking poultry) only to face an equally cruel demise in the slaughterhouse (which, by the way is no picnic for its human workers). I can’t imagine enjoying the results of such misery on my plate. A primarily plant-based diet is a more humane way to enjoy the fruits of the earth.
Animal agribusiness also primarily goes to feed those who already have enough to eat. The tons of grain that used to feed animals each year could be put to better use by feeding it directly to those who need it most.
Good company: Some of the world's most brilliant and influential people have practiced and promoted the vegetarian way of life, including Pythagorus, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, George Bernard Shaw—just to name a few. Wouldn’t you like to join them?
Adapted from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas