Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
Here, I have summarised the benefits of vegetarian diets under these headlines:
• Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
• Environmental Benefits of Vegetarian Way of Life
• Benefits of Vegetarian Lifestyle on Animal Welfare
• Economical Benefits of Vegetarian Lifestyle
Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
Well planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and provide benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases as it is stated in the position paper of American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada.
Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein as well as higher levels of complex carbohydrates, fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E along with phytochemicals.
Much research today shows a that vegetarian/vegan lifestyle provides benefits in the prevention of chronic diseases such as certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, strokes, high blood pressure, gallstones and kidney stones.
• Vegetarianism in Cancer Prevention
A major report published by the World Cancer Research Fund in 1997 recommended we lower our risk of cancer by choosing predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed starchy staple foods.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that a low-fat diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes can ward off many kinds of cancer. Experts are now saying that people may cut their risk in half by adopting vegetarian and especially vegan diets. In other words, the risk of most cancers is 20-50% lower in those with a high versus a low consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The risks of women getting breast cancer and men contracting prostate cancer are nearly four times as high for frequent meat eaters as for those who eat meat sparingly or not at all.
Fibre in the Prevention of Cancer
Vegetarians, especially vegans, typically consume four times more fibre than an average person, and high fibre intake is believed to reduce the risk of cancer and other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and digestive tract problems.
• Vegetarianism in the Prevention of Heart Disease
Heart disease reigns as the number one killer in North America, accounting for about 40% of all deaths. The dietary components that have been most consistently associated with promoting heart disease include;
• Animal protein
• Saturated fat
• Trans-fatty acids
• Refined carbohydrates
• Oxidative stressors
Vegetarians have a solid advantage over non-vegetarians when it comes to heart disease. On average death rates from heart disease in vegetarians are less than half those of the general population. The reason given for this is the consumption of a generous supply of whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables and a lower consumption of animal protein, cholesterol and saturated fat providing protection.
The advantage of a vegan diet in the prevention of heart disease is even bigger because dietary components such as saturated fats and cholesterol do not exist in a vegan diet. Therefore, the risk of having a heart attack for a vegan is only 4 percent whereas this figure for a meat-eater is 50 precent.
• Vegetarianism in the Prevention of Stroke
Studies show a protective relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption reducing the risk of stroke. Cruciferous and green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits seem to be the most protective. Data from studies reveal that consuming fruit and vegetables three or more times a day compared with less than once a day was associated with a 27 percent lower incidence of stroke and a 42 percent lower stroke mortality.
• Vegetarianism in the prevention of High Blood Pressure
Data from population studies and human trials provide evidence that vegetarian dietary patterns lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressures in elderly vegetarians has been reported to be best accounted for by their lower body weight.
• Vegetarianism in the Prevention of Diabetes
Higher consumption of nuts and whole grains has been associated with lower rates of diabetes. In a large prospective study, fruit and vegetable intake was found to be inversely associated with the incidence of diabetes, particularly among women. An increased consumption of fruit and vegetables also appears to contribute to the prevention of diabetes.
• Vegetarianism and the Ideal Body Weight
Scientific studies consistently show that vegetarians are slimmer than non-vegetarians. Vegetarian or vegan diets are also effective weight loss diets, because the high levels of fibre and low levels of fat make it possible for dieters to eat until they are full and still take in lower calories than other diets.
• Vegetarianism and Improved Longevity
Vegetarians/vegans enjoy greater longevity than non-vegetarians. They live an estimated seven to nine years longer than non-vegetarians and tend to be healthier in their senior years.
• Vegetarianism and Reduced risk of Foodborne Diseases
Vegetarians and vegans are less likely to get bacterial infection such as E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and more importantly BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or mad cow disease.
• Vegetarianism and Reduced Exposure to Chemicals
A vegetarian diet can also reduce exposure to chemicals that are found in meat. Antibiotics and synthetic additives such as hormones are used in the production of meat. Chemicals tend to accumulate in the tissue of animals. By not eating animal products, one can avoid the exposure to these accumulated toxins, many of which are believed to influence the development of cancer. It is important, however, for vegetarians and vegans to eat organically produced vegetables and grains, as vegetarians who eat nonorganic food may be exposed to high doses of pesticides.
One study showed that DDT, a cancer-causing pesticide, was present in significant levels in mother’s milk for 99% of American women, but only 8% of vegetarian women had significant levels of the pesticide.
Another contaminant which is commonly found in fish is mercury (in the form of methylmercury). Mercury has potential to affect nervous system, particularly in the developing foetus. The risk of exposure to mercury found in fish is nil for vegetarians and vegans.
• Vegetarianism in the Treatment of Chronic Diseases
Vegetarian diets are often recommended as dietary therapy for heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, strokes, cancer, obesity, arthritis, allergies, asthma, hypertension, gout, gallstones, kidney stones, ulcers, colitis, digestive disorders, PMS, anxiety and depression.
A vegan diet is especially beneficial for those with allergic or autoimmune disorders such as asthma and allergies. Animal products cause allergic reactions in many people, and studies have shown that allergic responses and inflammation may be improved by eliminating animal products from the diet.
Environmental Benefits of Vegetarian Way Of Life
Vegetarians and vegans believe that their dietary and lifestyle practices would contribute to a healthier world ecology. Many statistics show that meat-centred diet is contributing to a number of environmental problems such as global warming, loss of the world’s most valuable ecosystems due to overgrazing, air pollution, water shortages and contamination, top soil loss, collapse of the world’s oceans, deforestation and desertification. Choosing a vegetarian diet can help protect environment in many ways:
• Protection against global warming
Intensive animal agriculture is a significant factor in global warming, increasing all major global warming gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions largely come from fossil fuels. Raising livestock requires huge amounts of fossil fuels. Fuels are needed to transport, feed, to heat their housing, and to take the animals to slaughter, meat packing plants, and grocery stores. The burning of these fuels, as well as methane produced by the animals, is one cause of global warming.
Because of increased demands for meat, every year almost 32 million hectares of forests are destroyed in order to produce meat. These range lands are often over-grazed, causing vulnerability to wind and water erosion. In addition, forested areas are cleared to provide more grazing areas. In the case of tropical rain forests this is especially devastating about half of these forests are already gone. While these forests cover only 2% of the earth’s land mass, they contain about two-thirds of all plant and animal species as well as large quantities of useful and renewable products. Clearing these areas endangers the existence of these species, changes the regional climate, displaces people, and causes soil erosion and shortages of fuel, wood and timber.
• Protection of oceans and its habitants
Industrial fishing is seriously damaging ocean ecosystems. Each year, in addition to countless fish, approximately 80,000 dolphins and thousands of other marine mammals are snagged in fishing nets worldwide. As a result, most of them die.
• Protection against air pollution
Ammonia has been found to be above safety levels in areas around some farm buildings. This problem is often the case around battery hen housing.
• Protection against water shortages and contamination
A lot more water is required in livestock agriculture than in plant agriculture. It takes only about 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat and around 390 gallons to produce just one pound of beef. In fact, it takes less water to produce the food that a pure vegetarian needs for one year than to produce the food that a meat eater needs for a month.
Pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers used in the production of animals’ feed pollute land and water. In the year 1996, 10% of all the UK water pollution incidents were a result of cattle slurry entering the water course.
• Protection against desertification and deforestation
Livestock production is a major cause of desertification (where the land dries out and loses its precious topsoil so vegetation is unable to grow on it anymore) and deforestation (loss of trees).
• World hunger problems
It takes many more resources to produce meat than it does to provide a grain-based diet, and people can be fed better with grain than with meat. For instance, it takes 4.5 kg of grain to make 0.45 kg of beef. On one acre of land, 9,000 kg of potatoes can be grown compared to 57 kg of beef during the same time. In America, livestock consume six and a half times as much grain as the entire population. Different dietary habits here could relieve a large measure of the pain and suffering in the world.
For further information on environmental consequences of human food choices, please download Eating up the World by The Vegetarian Network Victoria.
Benefits of Vegetarian Lifestyle on Animal Welfare
Vegetarian or vegan lifestyle seeks to promote awareness, compassion, and peace. Therefore, they are ethical systems as well as diets. Ethics refers to rules of conduct or the ways in which people interact with others and the world. Choosing vegetarian lifestyle creates less demand for animal products. Here’s how vegetarian lifestyle helps improve animal welfare;
There are no laws against cruelty to animals raised for food. Therefore, food animals are often subjected to horrific treatments. Vegetarianism boycotts treatments like these:
• Eggs are produced by keeping chickens in small cages and in painful and unsanitary conditions.
• Many factory-farmed animals never see a blade of grass in their lifetime.
• Male chicks of no economic value to the egg industry are gassed, suffocated or ground up alive.
• Debeaking is a standard agricultural practice in the egg industry which is performed without anaesthesia.
• Dairy cows are also injected with hormones that make them produce unnaturally high quantities of milk while weakening their immune systems and making them sick and unhealthy.
• High milk production often leads to extremely painful udder ligament damage, mastitis and lameness.
• Dairy cattle are subjected to cruel treatment as well, being bred artificially and caged for much of their lives.
• Dairy farming causes death to cows as well because undesirable or old cows are slaughtered for meat.
• Large amounts of antibiotics need to be used on weakened cows, which in turn affects the health of humans and creates diseases that are resistant to medicine.
• Crowding and isolation of animals raised for food production are nearly always deprived of natural sexual, social, hygienic, and parental behaviours.
• Bulls raised for meat-production are routinely castrated without any type of anaesthesia or pain-killers.
• Branding is another standard agricultural practice which is also performed without anaesthesia.
• Most breeding sows are kept inside sheds –continually pregnant and confined on small metal barred pens called dry sow stalls.
• A sow gives birth in a farrowing crate –a metal barred pen with a concrete and slatted floor area. Nurturing and interacting with her young is impossible as a cruel metal frame imprisons her.
• Piglets’ tails are routinely docked to avoid stress-induced tail biting and needle (eye) teeth are clipped –all without anaesthetic. Piglets can die from shock.
Transport of Food Animals
Food animals are transported to slaughter without food and water for a long time and they experience extreme trauma. As a result, millions of animals die each year on the way to slaughter.
Slaughter of Food Animals
Every year billions of animals are slaughtered for the production of flesh food. When the animals are stunned before they are slaughtered (exempting kosher and halal), it is not always reliable and the animals become terrified, frequently fighting for their lives and are in pain as they move towards their death.
Animal Testing and More
Vegetarians in general believe that people should become aware of how their food choices are creating suffering for animals. Therefore some vegetarians especially vegans do not use products that have been tested on animals and are active in resisting the use of animals for dissection and medical experiments. They are outspoken against hunting and the cruel treatment of animals in zoos or for entertainment (e.g., cockfighting and bullfighting).
Other animal products are avoided by vegetarians as well. Leather, wool, and fur are not used because they result in the suffering of animals from their production. Some vegans do not use honey because they believe that the collection of honey is harmful to bees.
Economical Benefits of Vegetarian Lifestyle
Meat is expensive because the cost of meat production is high. The amount of food that you need to feed to an animal in its short life span is far greater than the amount of food that you get back from it as flesh food.
Choosing a non-vegetarian lifestyle is not only expensive for individuals but has also significant health and medical cost. The total direct medical costs in the United States attributable to meat consumption were estimated to be $30-60 billion a year, based upon the higher prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity and foodborne illness among meat-eaters compared with vegetarians.