“Nothing will benefit health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

These wise words were spoken by Albert Einstein a few decades ago. Along with Gandhi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, and Leo Tolstoy, they are some of the most well-known vegetarians.

I have been a vegetarian for the past 24 years, and the question I get most often is: “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you become a vegetarian?”

According to research, these are the top reasons people become vegetarians:

Health benefits:

  • An Oxford study found that a vegetarian lifestyle will give you an average of a six-year longer life span.
  • This same study found the BMI of vegetarians lower than meat-eaters’ BMI.
  • A meat-free diet’s essential health benefits are that you are not exposed to the antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, and even parasites in meat products. Fish, on the other hand, can contain metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic. These metals, unfortunately, are not removed by freezing or the cooking process.
  • Vegetarians have a 24% lower risk of dying from heart disease, as their diets are naturally lower in cholesterol and animal fat. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the most effective way to stop coronary artery disease.
  • Meat-free eating gives you more energy. As meat is responsible for more fat in the bloodstream, your arteries are not fully open, and your muscles are deprived of oxygen.
  • Non-meat eaters also have a lower cancer rate compared to the rest of the population. It is proved that vegetarians have a lower risk of colon cancer than meat-eaters.
  • A meat-free diet makes you half as likely as meat-eaters to get type 2 diabetes.
  • Your chances of developing gall stones and kidney stones are reduced on a vegetarian diet.
  • Vegetarian women generally have milder menopause symptoms, as soy contains natural phytoestrogens, and soy is often part of the vegetarian diet.

Environmental benefits:

  • According to a 2006 report by the United Nations, livestock are responsible for more gasses than all the cars and trucks in the world! If more people turn to meat-free diets, it can help reduce global warming.
  • As 40% of grain produced worldwide is used to feed livestock, following meat-free diets can impact world hunger. Hungry people can instead be provided with all that grain.
  • Vegetarian lifestyles are favorable for the economy. Chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and cancer are all diet-related and cost a staggering amount of money to treat.
  • An important reason why some people become vegetarians or vegans is, of course, out of compassion for farm animals.

In my case, the answer to my meat-free diet is simply that I was in the UK during 1995 and 1996 with a working-holiday-visa and it was at the time of Mad Cow disease in England. So, besides the fact that I never liked meat since childhood, I thought it was the ideal time to stop eating it entirely.

You get three types of vegetarians:

  1. Vegan: they follow a strictly plant-based diet and eat no animal products at all.
  2. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians: they eat no meat, but they do eat eggs and dairy.
  3. Partial vegetarians: they eat fish or/and poultry, but no red meat.

An article published by the BBC in 2017 suggested that if the whole world indeed turned to vegetarian eating by 2050, it will lead to 7 million fewer deaths per year! Turning pastures of live-stock into forests will have a positive effect on climate change.

Are there any risks to your health when you follow a meat-free diet?

  • The BMC Medicine journal did an extensive study that showed vegetarians are at greater risk of bone fractures because they sometimes can have an inadequate amount of calcium and protein intake.

  • A long term study done at Oxford, focusing on health and diet, found that vegetarians can be more prone to certain vitamin deficiencies. About half of meat-free eaters are vitamin B12 deficient. Their diets often lack sufficient omega 3, iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin K, and choline. As you get choline from milk and eggs as well, this deficiency is a risk for vegans. Vegetarians can get iron from beans and leafy greens, and this is a healthier type of iron than iron from red meat.

Even though I eat eggs and dairy, I have low vitamin D and iron levels and regularly take supplements. Just be aware that taking supplements may be necessary for some vegetarians.

  • The same study showed vegetarians to have a 20% higher stroke risk, which is alarming, but it can be due to being vitamin B12 deficient. So this statistic might differ if vegetarians took a supplement.

Why Lacto-Ovo vegetarians are healthier than vegans:

  • The American dietetic association believes that Lacto-Ovo vegetarians get more nutrients and health benefits out of their diet than vegans.
  • According to the research done by Harvard’s health publication, Lacto-Ovo vegetarians get sufficient protein from their diet, while vegans don’t. They also found that the dairy and egg eaters got the same amount of calcium from their diet than meat eaters, while vegans did not. Vegans also had lower vitamin B12 and omega 3 levels than Lacto-Ovo vegetarians.
  • A study done by Health Food Shoppers showed that vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy were 34% – 38% less likely to die of heart disease or lung cancer.
  • When it comes to colorectal cancer, Lacto-Ovo vegetarians had an 18% lower chance than vegans to get it. This is according to a Heidelberg study.
  • Oxford University found vegans though to be less likely to develop cataracts than egg and dairy eating vegetarians. The study also found that the Lacto-Ovo vegetarians still had a lower chance than meat eaters of getting cataracts.

It seems that overall, eating dairy and eggs is a better choice health wise than being strictly vegan.

The people with the longest life expectancy in the world are the Japanese from Okinawa. Their diet consists of fiber-rich fruit, vegetables and soy, and low-calorie unrefined carbohydrates.

Vegetarian cuisine can be diverse, tasty, as well as fast and easy to cook. And today, most restaurants have vegetarian selections on their menus, So eating out, luckily, does not mean that a Greek salad is your only option anymore.

Apart from its numerous health benefits, a vegetarian lifestyle is in line with a gentler and kinder society in general.

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