People choose to not eat meat for a wide range of reasons — concerns about animal welfare, moral opposition to eating animal products, religious convictions, reducing impact to the environment. But personal health comes out on top of most surveys asking people why they choose to be vegetarian or vegan.
The research into the benefits of these ways of eating is compelling:
- The American Heart Association reports that reducing or eliminating meat consumption leads to lower risk of heart disease, stroke, many forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.
- In 2013 Loma Linda University released the results of a study of more than 70,000 Seventh-Day Adventist men and women, whose doctrines include following a vegetarian diet. Over a five-year period all vegetarians had a lower death rate than non-vegetarians and lower risk of dying, with the lowest risk of death found in pesco-vegetarians (vegetarians who eat fish) and vegans. Benefits were found to be more significant for men than for women.
- A 2017 meta-analysis of 49 studies and clinical trials released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found a long-term association between adopting a vegetarian diet and lower levels of overall cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. A smaller decrease of HDL “good” cholesterol was also reported, but the authors of the analysis said other researchers had concluded that interventions to increase HDL cholesterol have not had an effect on coronary disease risk.
- Scientists from the University of Bergen in Norway reported in 2020 that switching to a plant-based diet consistently led to weight loss among study subjects who had been diagnosed with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes or obesity. Most of the participants in the 19 studies analyzed ate a low-fat vegan diet.
This doesn’t mean you can simply drop meat and experience these results, especially if your vegetarian diet includes lots of french fries with the current generation of highly processed “plant-based” burgers loaded with saturated fat and sodium.
But when followed carefully with an eye toward getting all the nutrients you need, meatless diets bring you a host of health benefits.