Everyone I know asks me why I decided to go vegetarian. I usually ask in return, “How many reasons do you want?” The case for vegetarianism is compelling and hard to dispute. (The only case I’ve heard for meat is “but I like the taste.” I like the taste of cookie dough too, but I don’t plan to eat it for every meal.) Here is a long list of reasons to go vegetarian.
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 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.
3. You can put more money in your mutual fund.
The economy is down & we’re all trying to save some cash. 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 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.
5. 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. Cardiovascular disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 would 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.
8. 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. “You’re also providing a market for vegetarian products and making it more likely that they’ll be available for the children.”
9. 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 even skin cancers.
10. 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.
11. You’ll fit into your old jeans.
On average, vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters, and when they diet, they 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 Standard American Diet (SAD). Vegetarians are also less likely to fall victim to weight-related disorders like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
12. 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.
13. 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).
14. 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.
15. 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.”
16. 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.
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 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.