Health And Environmental Reasons For Becoming Vegetarian

Perhaps you have followed this blog for a while and have benefited from some of our articles. Given the fact that there is plenty of good information often organised in lists, it may be easy to overlook the fact that this is a bit of a personal blog too. So today I’m going to be talking about vegetarianism, since I am, in this stage of life, a vegetarian myself.

Hundreds of different studies have demonstrated that vegetarians who eat balanced diets have lower rates of coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, and certain cancers. Veganism, while a little extreme for most of us, is even healthier it seems. Even one of the United States’ Beef Council admits it, stating that “Several epidemiological studies indicate that vegetarians have lower morbidity and mortality from chronic degenerative diseases.”

In the past decade, vegetarians are estimated to comprise about two percent of the population, but everyday more and more people in the west give up eating red meat or try their first bite of tofu. Apart from ethics and ecological reasons, health remains one of the main drivers for vegetarianism worldwide. While I don’t usually produce stats and dry science, here are some:

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Registered Dietician Winston Craig says that meat eating costs Americans somewhere between $30-$60 billion per year in medical expenses for hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity, and food-borne illnesses associated with meat. Craig says that a vegetarian diet is associated with lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less obesity.

In 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund recommended a vegetarian diet for reducing the risk of cancer. Lifelong vegetarians have 24% less heart disease, while vegans have an astounding 57% less. A comprehensive study of a vegetarian religious group, the Seventh Day Adventists, found that they had half the rate of high blood pressure and diabetes, half the rate of colon cancer, and two-thirds the rate of arthritis and prostate cancer as other groups (2001). Furthermore, Cornell University reported that eating less meat did more to reduce osteoporosis than supplementing your diet with calcium.

Do you have to be completely vegetarian to benefit? Well, about two decades ago in 1999, a meta-analysis of several vegetarian and vegan mortality studies was conducted and re-analysed. The researchers concluded that even reducing meat in your diet had a significant effect on lowering your rate of disease. People who ate meat just once a week had a 20% lower rate of dying from heart disease, and their over-all mortality rate was reduced by 10%. Those who ate only fish saw as much as a 34% reduction in heart disease death, while their over-all mortality was lowered by 18%.

In the same sense, the more you reduce consumption of animal products, the more you appear to benefit. Only 7% of the vegans studied died of cancer (lung, stomach, and colorectal). Alarmingly, 19% of over-all deaths in the United States are from cancer. I’m sure the stats are not that different in other western countries.

So now we move onto the hippie environmentalism reasons why people might become vegetarian. Every year, meat eaters contribute to the cattle farming industry. This industry uses farm land that could be producing human food to make grain for cows. As most people know, cows produce large amounts of environmentally-toxic methane gas through their, ahem ahem, back end. Raising cows also uses precious water resources, and a lot of it too!

What you may not know though is that eating meat also contributes to the destruction of the rain forests. In an effort to make a cheaper Big Mac and Whopper for the North American market, companies are growing cattle in Central America, where labour and other costs are lower. Eager Central Americans are slashing and burning their native rain forests to make room for the beef industry. So you see how it all connects?

What’s more disturbing is that every hamburger that originated from a rain forest cow required the destruction of roughly 55 square feet of rain forest. Furthermore, studies show that one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water. The water used to produce one hamburger patty is enough for two-week’s worth of daily showers. Of course, it is not that simple, but it is still significant.

Estimates show that a vegetarian diet saves 1.5 tons of greenhouse gas per person per year. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that producing one calorie of animal protein requires ten times the fossil fuel as producing one calorie of plant protein. Wow! Furthermore, eating a vegan diet reduces more carbon dioxide emissions than driving a hybrid car, according to the New Scientist.

Tough to hear, isn’t it? While I might be putting this out to you in this manner, I don’t even feel this is extreme. There are, of course, other reasons why people might become vegetarian, such as ethical and religious reasons. I personally don’t have a strong reason why I choose to not eat meat. Anyways, I’ll be content if you have learnt something today. However, like the pacifist that I am, I won’t judge you for your dietary habits. All the best!

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Also published on Medium.

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