Many studies have shown that a vegetarian diet provides health advantages due to the consumption of lots of fruits and vegetables and the avoidance of meat, which sometimes contains unhealthy substances.
Vegetarian diets can lack vital nutrients that are found in meat, so plant-based eaters should determine if they need to obtain those nutrients from other foods.
So there are pros and cons of plant-based diets. In this article we take a look at both, backed with evidence from scientific studies:
PROS OF VEGETARIANISM
Physical Health Benefits of Vegetarianism
Weight Loss Can Be Easier Without Meat
There is no shortage of popular diets that people try hoping to lose weight. A lot of those diets are difficult to stay on long term. One study concluded that plant-based eating is easier to follow and maintain than calorie-reduction diets, and it decreases fat intake. An increase in fiber found in fruits, vegetables, grains, polyunsaturated fats (healthy fats like nuts) and plant proteins (like tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, seitan, nuts) are filling and satiate hunger.
In addition, fiber is essential for healthy digestion. It fills you up by slowing down the speed of sugar absorption in the bloodstream and accelerates processes in your intestines. Fiber also cleans bacteria and impurities out of your colon, which lowers your risk of colon cancer.
Plants Contain Substances That Nurture Skin
Who doesn’t want healthy looking skin?! A study showed that plant-based foods contain polyphenols, carotenoids and some vitamins only found in tiny amounts in other food categories. Bioactive compounds like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, polyphenols and phenolic acids can all contribute to oxidant defense (oxidative stress happens when oxidants outnumber antioxidants), lower inflammation and aid the structural support of the skin.
Epidemiological studies have linked higher consumption of certain fruits and vegetables to skin health. Spinach, asparagus, cabbage, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, avocados and bell peppers are great veggies for skin. Grapefruit, mangos, acai berries and blueberries are the best skin-nurturing fruits.
Nuts, legumes and polyphenolic-rich beverages (green, lavender and matcha tea, coffee, hot cocoa, beer, wine, whisky and others) are all rich with phytochemicals. Nurturing your skin helps to prevent hyperpigmentation and wrinkles while improving elasticity and collagen production.
Vegetarians Usually Have Lower Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are prevalent in our fast food society. It seems like people are working too many hours and busy with their children or other activities, making it challenging to cook healthy meals. Convenience food can be fatty and lacking in nutrients.
Studies have concluded that plant-based diets decrease cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Unfortunately, even a vegetarian diet can’t reduce triglycerides (found in candy, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, foods with glucose, fructose, corn syrup, sucrose and similar as the first ingredient).
Another NCBI study concluded that vegetarian diets help reduce mean systolic blood pressure compared to omnivorous diets.
Protect Yourself Against Disease Risk By Eating Lots of Plant-Based Foods
A study of vegetarian and carnivorous Seventh Day Adventists showed that the male plant-based subjects had lower instances of colon cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease. The risks of diabetes mellitus, hypertension and arthritis also decreased a bit. The researchers speculated that increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts may have staved off the diseases as much as not eating meat.
In developed countries, diets including lots of meat cause premature death and disability contribute to cancers. Plant-based diets help prevent a multitude of cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Vegetarianism Has Benefits For Pregnant and Lactating Women
What happens when a vegetarian becomes pregnant or is lactating? Should she start binging on steak? A study published by NCBI showed that plant-based pregnancy and lactation are healthy as long as the mother’s diet is well-balanced. Prenatal vitamins help vegetarians as well as omnivores fill themselves and their babies up with lots of nutrients.
The American Dietetic Association’s (ADA) statement about vegetarianism is that people must plan their meals to include protein, fruits, vegetables and grains. The ADA finds plant-based diets healthy for all ages “including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes.
Vegetarian Children Reap the Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Children can thrive on vegetarian diets just like adults. They can benefit from the low-fat and high-fiber eating plan which provides energy and prevents obesity and illnesses, just like vegetarian adults. The key to healthy vegetarian children is ensuring that they get all the nutrients they need.
Children need to consume more calories because they are growing. Parents should plan children’s meals so they eat enough protein, essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamins B12 and D. See the Cons section at the end for non-meat foods that contain those vitamins and nutrients.
It’s also important that children understand that not all vegetarian foods are nutritious. French fries and potato chips are delicious vegetarian treats, but the focus of healthy eating should be vegetables, fruits, grains and healthy proteins most of the time.
Mental Health Benefits of Vegetarianism
A study found 12 nutrients that act as antidepressants: folate, iron, magnesium, selenium, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), potassium, thiamine, vitamins A, B6, B12, C and zinc. Those are all in leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, mussels and oysters (for the pescatarian vegetarians).
Another study of adolescents concluded that a daily diet including yellow and green vegetables lowered the risk of depression compared to peers who only ate those vegetables once or twice a week or didn’t eat them at all.
Clinical trials concluded that more research needs to be done, but emotional distress and mental illness may be associated with microbiota in neurological function and microbial “intervention” may help. Thus, a plant-based diet may influence brain function.
OTHER COMPELLING REASONS TO BECOME A VEGETARIAN
Some Professional Athletes Swear By Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism Can Be Less Expensive
Beef prices increased 20% from October 2020 to October 2021. According to CNBC, COVID is to blame due to it shutting down production plants because of infected workers. Farmers decreased their cattle population because there was nowhere to send the beef. Less meat means higher demand than supply, which makes it pretty expensive.
Tips For the Most Affordable Vegetarian Diets
Meanwhile, in the produce aisle, vegetables and fruit are not too expensive when they are in season. When winter rolls around and prices increase, you can purchase them frozen or canned—both of which seal in the nutrients and are not too pricey.
Convenience plant-based meat products are expensive, but beans, rice and grains are very affordable. Find some vegetarian meals you enjoy that are easy to prepare and skip the “fake” meats or eat them only occasionally if you want to keep your grocery bills down.
Other ways to make a plant-based diet affordable include going to farmers markets, Asian markets, purchasing in bulk online and frequenting stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s. Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods salvage and sell produce that’s misshapen and not purchased by supermarkets.
Healthy Eating Is Less Expensive Than Doctor Visits & Medicine
Consider the medical costs vegetarians save by nurturing their bodies with healthy produce, grains and proteins—especially if you exercise. Because vegetarians are less likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and other diseases, they pay for less doctor visits and prescription medications. Some insurance companies charge lower rates for vegetarians.
Environmental Benefits of Vegetarianism
This is a huge one! Many vegetarians choose not to eat animals because factory farms damage our planet. The biggest environmental benefits to vegetarianism are that it requires less land, minimizes pollution, produces less emissions, conserves water and protects marine ecosystems.
Planting crops where animals are farmed would produce more food and potentially help populations suffering from famine. Our World In Data reports that animal agriculture uses nearly 80% of global agricultural land, but produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. Plants only occupy 23% of habitable land.
As far as pollution, farm animals are given hormones and antibiotics which eventually make their way to oceans, lakes, rivers and are absorbed into the earth as livestock excrement is distributed by bad sewage systems. Yuck.
Rearchers estimate that 17-22 percent of U.S. catch is discarded every year, and that bycatch could amount to two billion pounds every year. That’s the same amount that other fishing countries catch each year.
Gigantic trawl nets destroy coral reefs and often hurt or kill marine life, including turtles. Overfishing reduces the availability of fish for other fish and animals whose diets are principally marine life.
Regarding emissions, animals that become meat for consumption produce a quarter of Earth’s gasses like methane and nitrous oxide. Cows emit four times the GreenHouse Gasses of pigs and chickens—and 20 times more than plant proteins.
Water pollution results from the overpopulation of fish in fish farms which creates mass production of feces that flows into water bodies in the area. Fish are given antibiotics to avoid parasites, and the drugs infiltrate the food chain–and the last link of the food chain is humans.
Farmers use over 70% of the world’s water. In fact, the production of one pound of meat involves 2,400 gallons of water and a pound of wheat can be produced with just 25 gallons of water. Water conservation would greatly help the one in nine people who don’t have potable water.
The Global Cost of Meat Consumption
Globally, meat consumption is expensive because producing it requires more energy than growing fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and other non-meat foods. A University of Oxford study from 2016 estimated that the United States would save between $197 billion and $289 billion per year by switching to a plant-based or meat-reduced diet. Worldwide, 1.6 trillion could be saved by 2050, which would help feed those who are food insecure around the world.
IF YOU JUST CAN’T SAY GOODBYE TO MEAT FOREVER
Benefits of Going Vegetarianism Short-Term
What if you just can’t commit to being a vegetarian for the duration of your lifetime? You could try it for a few weeks. Some people eat a vegetarian diet temporarily or intermittently to lose weight and/or feel healthier.
The Gastro Journal reported that a short-term vegetarian diet reduces oxidative stress and increases antioxidant defense in healthy study volunteers over a month period.
VEGETARIANISM FOR THE SOUL
Spiritual Benefits of Vegetarianism
Many Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus eat plant-based diets for spiritual reasons. Sikhs believe that eating meat causes a spiritual imbalance and has negative effects on mind, body and spirit. Buddhism, Jainism and Hindu are based on the concepts of karma and rebirth.
Buddha wasn’t a vegetarian, but some Buddhists later decided that eating meat contributes to cruelty to and death of millions of animals, and compassionate people would not want to be part of that.
Jains are the most hardcore vegetarians. Not only do they avoid meat, they won’t eat underground vegetables like onions, garlic and potatoes because digging them up might injure small insects and pulling up the entire plant could kill the plant.
One Hindu view is that eating a vegetarian diet purifies the body for inner awakening, enabling the body to receive higher forms of vibrations and energies which awaken as one moves into higher consciousness. Plant-based eating also is said to make people stronger and able to control their impulses and desires.
The spiritual aspect of abstaining from meat comes from compassion for animals, eschewing violence, attaining oneness with nature, acknowledging that animals have souls and that they shouldn’t be confined in overpopulated spaces and then slaughtered for human consumption.
Ethical Vegetarianism Dates Back to Ancient Times
Philosophers and social activists have touted the ethical benefits of vegetarianism for thousands of years. Ethical vegetarians include Pythagorus, Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks.
Vegetarians who abstain from meat for ethical reasons generally believe that animals are sentient creatures which means that they have feelings.
Environmental vegetarians count as ethical vegetarians in that our planet is suffering immensely from pollution and greenhouse gasses, and abolishing factory farms would reduce methane production. Also, the elimination of factory farms would end the pollution from vaccines and medicine mentioned earlier–as well as the animal excrement flowing everywhere.
CONS OF VEGETARIANISM
In addition to the many benefits of vegetarianism, there are a few drawbacks that you might not be aware of. Let’s get into the cons of a plant-based diet.
People who LOVE meat may find it difficult to not eat any or they may not feel satisfied without meat. They can decrease meat consumption and increase fruit, vegetable and grain intake to boost their health.
A change in eating habits can require some emotional resolve. You don’t have to pressure yourself. Do it at a pace you’re comfortable with if you want to try.
Meat contains some vitamins and nutrients that need to be found elsewhere. Vegetarians should consume other sources of Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, iodine, omega 3-fatty acids and protein. It’s easy to find alternate foods, and it’s very important that vegetarians are aware of the nutrients that they need to obtain through other sources.
Science shows that increasing one’s intake of fruit, veggies, grains and non-meat proteins helps people lower the risk of many diseases such as some types of cancers, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Filling up on plenty of fiber-filled fruits, vegetables and grains as well as plant-based proteins helps vegetarians to maintain a healthy weight.
Plant-based diets are espoused by many athletes, consistent with the ethics of animal welfare and environmental protection and can be very affordable.
Committing to care for your body and being compassionate to animals feels good emotionally.
The main issue with vegetarianism is being aware of nutrients found in meat and consuming them in other foods and/or supplements.