A recent nationwide poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group determined that approximately 3% of adults in the United States are vegetarian (never eating meat, poultry, fish, or seafood), and about 1% are vegan (avoiding all dairy, eggs, and honey).

So what keeps the other 96% from making the leap and adopting an obviously healthier way of life?

The following are a few benefits of a vegetarian diet that might help at least give it a try

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1.     Cost 

Want to save a bunch of money? Go vegetarian!

People often think eating healthy diet is too costly. They may avoid buying vegetables, fruits and whole grains and instead eat refined bakery products and foods high in cheap ingredients like sugar and oil.

They may save money in some ways, but pay a big cost by not getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

A study done at the University of Southern Maine compared the cost of a generally healthy omnivorous diet (diet that includes meat), and a vegetarian diet.

They calculated the cost of the meat-containing diet to be $4,633 with $1,261 going to high protein foods such as meat products. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, totaled $3,727 with $541 going to non-meat sources of protein. The vegetarian diet was found to be 24% less costly with the cost of animal protein found to be 13% higher.

2.     Ecology and Environment

It is understandable how animal products cost more since the resources used to raise animals is so much more than plant foods.

About 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter.

The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population.

In some parts of the country water is a precious and scarce resource. Consider 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. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat.

If the grain were given directly to humans, there would certainly be enough food to feed the entire planet.

Many are fearful of contaminants like pesticides in foods such as corn, vegetables, fruits and grains.

Eating foods higher up on the food chain, however, concentrate those contaminates to the point that the Environmental Protection Agency (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.

Also, livestock produce massive amounts of excrement, which has been shown to pollute soil, water, and air. What remains of plants harvested in farming can be turned over into the soil with no thought of pollution or excess.

3.     Health and Disease Prevention

Improved health is one of the many reasons people choose to adopt a vegetarian diet, and there is now a wealth of evidence to support the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Seventh Day Adventists that follow a generally healthy lifestyle and avoid meat have been studied for years and have been found to have a much lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity,  and diabetes.

Studies have actually shown that people that have heart attacks can reverse their heart disease by following a strict vegetarian diet, exercising and not smoking.

Eating soy products such as meat substitutes and tofu can even help with symptoms of menopause. The key is to try and go all the way with whole grains, soy products, whole fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts seeds and legumes.

Some research has suggested that a vegetarian diet may also reduce the risk of other health conditions, including diverticular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Diverticular disease may respond well to the high fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains while arthritis and gout may improve with anti-inflammatory nutrients and properties in a vegetarian diet.

Although we need moderate amounts of protein in our diet, too much protein is quite unhealthy, especially for individuals with certain conditions like kidney disease.

A study of individuals with type 2 diabetes found that eliminating red meat from the diet and eating a low-protein diet improved renal function and blood fat levels. In patients with type 1 diabetes, improved kidney function has been demonstrated by following dietary intervention in which animal protein was replaced with vegetable protein and soy protein.

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4.     Preventing Constipation

There are lots of reasons someone might have constipation. One main reason is the lack of adequate fiber in the diet.

Vegetarian diets include an abundance of fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes while meats, eggs and dairy are totally void of fiber. About 20-30 grams is an adequate amount of fiber to help maintain a healthy digestive tract.

A few other factors that keep the bowels regular include healthy habits such as drinking plenty of water and other fluids, exercising regularly and avoiding stress.

5.     Meeting Nutritional Needs

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supports the fact that, in addition to their health benefits, well-planned vegetarian diets, including vegan diets, are nutritionally adequate and are appropriate for individuals during all stages of life.

Some nutrients can be more difficult to obtain on a vegetarian diet, but careful planning and, in some cases, the use of fortified foods or supplements can ensure that an individual’s nutrition needs are met while maximizing the health benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Those who eliminate meat almost inevitably discover a world of diverse foods. And diversity is not only fun and appetizing, it’s also a healthful way to eat, ensuring a balance of essential nutrients. It is easier to ensure an adequate intake when eating nutrient-dense foods and avoiding refined foods, sugar and concentrated fats.

6.     Reduced Risk of Food-Borne Illness

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses a year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods rich in protein such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood are frequently implicated in food-borne illness outbreaks.

Cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness. Touching raw meat then touching other non-potentially hazardous foods, dishes, and countertops spreads potentially deadly bacteria, which then makes a person ill. Improper storage of meats allows bacteria to grow rapidly.

Non-animal fresh foods can typically be kept at room temperature without worrying about getting sick when eaten.

7.     Weight Control

A large body of research has shown that vegetarians, particularly vegans, are leaner than their omnivorous counterparts.

The European Prospective Investigation in Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Oxford study compared weight gain over 5 years in almost 22,000 meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men and women.Weight gain was lowest in the vegan group and those who, during follow-up, had changed to a diet containing less animal foods.

The same study reported a significant difference in age-adjusted Body Mass Index (BMI) between the diet groups, with meat eaters having the highest BMI, vegans the lowest BMI, and fish eaters and vegetarians in between.

Differences in macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat and protein) intakes accounted for about half the weight difference with high-protein and low-fiber intakes most strongly associated with increasing BMI.

There are a number of other possible explanations for this association, including the lower fat intake, higher intake of dietary fiber, and lower energy density typical of a vegetarian diet.

Foods such as whole grains and nuts are more regularly consumed by vegetarians and have been independently associated with a reduced risk of obesity and weight gain. A higher intake of red meat, on the other hand, has been associated with an increased risk of weight gain.

8.     Spiritual Connection

Many people who have given up meat have found they have a certain sense of what might be called a spiritual awakening.

Most meat consumed in the US is raised, slaughtered and packaged by others and purchased in plastic wrap looking nothing like the original animal it came from.

Totally avoiding meat often results in a new awareness of the unnatural way animals are treated, and for no real purpose other than to satisfy a cultural taste for them.

Since eating meat is not a requirement for good health then eating it becomes optional.

People then are faced with the moral decision to participate in the slaughtering of animals in a way they likely would not want to if they had to do the killing themselves.

Except for some extremist veggie-terrorists that try to force their own views on others, cultures that traditionally follow vegetarian diets and lifestyles tend to be more calm and peaceful. After omitting meats the idea of eating it can become distasteful.

Conclusion

Eating meat and other animal products is a choice. Following a more healthy diet has health numerous benefits as well as benefits to the pocketbook, environment and even an improved sense of well-being.

Making changes are easier when taken in small steps and gradual transitions.

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