Diet & Fitness
Sunday, 01 March 2009 16:40
By Norine Dworkin Bnet
Your body, the planet and the animals will thank you for it
Why go vegetarian?
Better yet, why not go vegetarian?
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has said that 70 percent of all Americans are dying from diseases that are directly tied to their eating habits. Stacks of studies confirm that a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and soy is your best bet for living a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life. At the same time, you're doing the planet a huge favor by helping to preserve natural resources and cutting down on pollution generated by animal agriculture. Plus, you may appreciate your wonderful meals even more knowing that no animals suffered along the way. There are literally hundreds of great reasons to switch to a plant-based diet; here are 22 of the best we've heard.
1 You'll live a lot longer. Vegetarians live about seven years longer, and vegans (who eat no animal products) about 15 years longer than meat eaters, according to a study from Loma Linda University. These findings are backed up by the China Health Project (the largest population study on diet and health to date), which found that Chinese people who eat the least amount of fat and animal products have the lowest risks of cancer, heart attack and other chronic degenerative diseases. And a British study that tracked 6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 meat eaters for 12 years found that vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to die from cancer during that time and 20 percent less likely to die from other diseases.
2 You'll save your heart. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in the United States, and the standard American diet (SAD) that's laden with saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy is largely to blame. Children as young as age 3 who are raised on fast food and junk food show early signs of heart disease, according to the Bogalusa Heart Study done at the Louisiana State University. Cardiovascular disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. Heart attacks are also deadlier to the fairer sex: 53 percent of women who have heart attacks die from them, compared with 47 percent of men. Today, the average American male eating a meat-based diet has a 50 percent chance of dying from heart disease. His risk drops to 15 percent if he cuts out meat; it goes to 4 percent if he cuts out meat, dairy and eggs. Partly responsible is the fact that fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidant nutrients that protect the heart and its arteries. Plus, produce contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. Incidentally, cholesterol levels for vegetarians are 14 percent lower than meat eaters.
3 You can put more money in your mutual fund. Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
4 You'll reduce your risk of cancer. A study in The International Journal of Cancer concluded that red meat is strongly associated with breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute says that women who eat meat every day are nearly four times more likely to get breast cancer than those who don't. By contrast, women who consume at least one serving of vegetables a day reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent, according to the Harvard Nurses Health Study. Studies done at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg suggest that this is because vegetarians' immune systems are more effective in killing off tumor cells than meat eaters'. Studies have also found a plant-based diet helps protect against prostate, colon and skin cancers.
5 You'll add color to your plate. Meat, chicken and fish tend to come in boring shades of brown and beige, but fruits and vegetables come in all colors of the rainbow. Disease-fighting phytochemicals are responsible for giving produce their rich, varied hues. So cooking by color is a good way to ensure you re eating a variety of naturally occurring substances that boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses.
6 You'll fit into your old jeans. On average, vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters, and when we diet, we keep the weight off up to seven years longer. That's because diets that are higher in vegetable proteins are much lower in fat and calories than the SAD. Vegetarians are also less likely to fall victim to weight-related disorders like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
7 You'll give your body a spring cleaning. Giving up meat helps purge the body of toxins (pesticides, environmental pollutants, preservatives) that overload our systems and cause illness. When people begin formal detoxification programs, their first step is to replace meats and dairy products with fruits and vegetables and juices. "These contain phytochemicals that help us detox naturally," says Chris Clark, M.D., medical director of The Raj, an Ayurvedic healing center in Fairfield, Iowa, which specializes in detox programs.
8 You'll make a strong political statement. Each day, 22 million animals are slaughtered to support the American appetite for meat. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to finish a delicious meal, knowing that no beings have suffered [to make it]," says Erik Marcus, author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating (McBooks, 1998).
9 Your meals will taste delicious. "Vegetables are endlessly interesting to cook and a joy to eat," says Deborah Madison, founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco and author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, 1997). "It's an ever-changing parade of flavors and colors and textures and tastes. Everyone can enjoy them, but vegetarians are more likely to think about cooking and eating vegetables."
10 You'll help reduce waste and air pollution. Circle 4 Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. And this is just one farm. Each year, the nation's factory farms, collectively produce 2 billion tons of manure, a substance that's rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the country's top 10 pollutants. And that's not even counting the methane gas released by cows, pigs and poultry (which contributes to the greenhouse effect); the ammonia gases from urine; poison gases that emanate from manure lagoons; toxic chemicals from pesticides; and exhaust from farm equipment used to raise feed for animals.
11 Your bones will last longer. The average bone loss for a vegetarian woman at age 65 is 18 percent; for non-vegetarian women, it's double that. Researchers attribute this to the consumption of excess protein--the average meat-eating American woman eats 144 percent over the recommended daily allowance; the average man eats 175 percent more.
Excess protein interferes with the absorption and retention of calcium and actually prompts the body to excrete calcium, laying the ground for the brittle bone disease osteoporosis. Animal proteins, including milk, make the blood acidic, and to balance that condition, the body pulls calcium from bones. So rather than rely on milk for calcium, vegetarians turn to dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and legumes, which, calorie for calorie, are superior sources.
12 You'll help reduce famine. Right now, 72 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there'd be enough food to feed the entire planet. In addition, using land for animal agriculture is inefficient in terms of maximizing food production. According to the journal Soil and Water, one acre of land could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 pounds of carrots or just 250 pounds of beef.
13 You'll avoid toxic chemicals. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of pesticide residue in our diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic; lead, cadmium) that cannot be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products are also laced with steroids and hormones.
14 You'll protect yourself from food-borne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that among Americans, there were approximately 80 million incidences of food-borne illness a year--resulting in 9,000 deaths. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 25 percent of all chicken sold in the United States carries salmonella bacteria and, the CDC estimates, 70 percent to 90 percent of chickens contain the bacteria campy-lobacter (some strains of which are antibiotic-resistant), approximately 5 percent of cows carry the lethal strain of E. coli O157:H7 (which causes virulent diseases and death), and 30 percent of pigs slaughtered each year for food are infected with toxoplasmosis (caused by parasites). All of which leads Michael Klaper, M.D., author of Pregnancy,. Children and a Vegan Diet (Gentle World Inc., 1988), to comment, "Including animal products in your diet is like playing Russian roulette with your life."
15 You may get rid of your back problems. "Back pain appears to begin, not in the back, but in the arteries," says Neil Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and author of Foods That Fight Pain (Harmony Books, 1998). "The degeneration of disks, for instance, which leads to nerves being pinched, starts with the arteries leading to the back." Eating a plant-based diet keeps these arteries clear of cholesterol-causing blockages to help maintain a healthy back.
16 You'll be more "regular." Eating a lot of vegetables necessarily means consuming fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Meat contains no fiber. Studies done at Harvard and Brigham Women's Hospital found that people who ate a high-fiber diet had a 42 percent lower risk of diverticulitis. People who eat lower on the food chain also tend to have fewer incidences of constipation, hemorrhoids and spastic colon.
17 You'll cool those hot flashes. Plants, grains and legumes--especially soy--contain phytoestrogens that are believed to balance fluctuating hormones, so vegetarian women tend to go through menopause with fewer complaints of sleep problems, hot flashes, fatigue, mood swings, weight gain, depression and a diminished sex drive.
18 You'll help to bring down the national debt. We spend between $60 billion to $120 billion annually to treat the heart disease, cancer, obesity, and food poisoning that are byproducts of a diet heavy on animal products.
19 You'll preserve our fish population. Because of our voracious appetite for fish, 39 percent of the oceans' fish species are overharvested, and the Food & Agriculture Organization reports that 11 of 15 of the world's major fishing grounds have become depleted.
20 You'll help protect the purity of water. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but just 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. Not only is this wasteful, but it contributes to rampant water pollution. A 1997 study by the Senate Agriculture Committee found that 60 percent of American waterways were polluted, and the major reason is animal agriculture. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development lists nitrate pollution (from fertilizer and manure) as one of the most serious water-quality problems in Europe and the United States.
21 You'll provide a great role model for your kids. "If you set a good example and feed your children good food, chances are they'll live a longer and healthier life," says Christine Beard, a certified nutrition educator and author of Become a Vegetarian in 5 Easy Steps (McBooks Press, 1997). "You're also providing a market for vegetarian products and making it more likely that they'll be available for the children."
22 Going vegetarian is very easy to do. Vegetarian cooking has never been so simple. Supermarkets carry packaged convenience foods like tofu hot dogs, veggie burgers and soy yogurt, milk and cheeses. There's greater availability of vegetarian options in mall and arena food courts. Many more restaurants specializing in vegetarian food have opened, and others have added "veg-friendly" dishes to their menus. Even traditional fast food chains now offer salads, veggie burritos and vegetarian pizza.
You'll also find vegetarian recipes on the Internet, and bookstore shelves are loaded with cookbooks devoted to vegetarian cuisine, demonstrating ease, diversity and good taste.
So rather than asking why go vegetarian, perhaps the real question is, Why haven't you gone vegetarian?