What Are the Benefits of Being Vegan or Vegetarian?
By Martha Michael
Choosing plant-based products over entrees such as steak and pork is a common practice for both vegetarians and vegans, but there are key differences between them. If you’re an omnivore who’s considering a move toward healthier eating, you may find it easier to begin with a vegetarian diet and consider a commitment to veganism later because it eliminates the use of animal products altogether.
It’s a lifestyle change for some while others want to reduce the suffering of animals. But one of the common aspects of choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet is the benefits to your health.
All vegetarians remove meat from their diet, but there are various forms such as whether they include milk, eggs, and other dairy products. An article by LoveToKnow.com says there are also a number of reasons people choose to become vegetarians.
Healthier diet - Plant-based foods have fewer calories and saturated fat while providing more fiber than animal products. You also avoid consuming meat from animals injected with hormones that can contribute to the development of certain cancers. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted research showing a link between red meat consumption and risk of breast cancer.
Eating a plant-based diet will also lower your risk of such cancers as:
- Skin cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
Maintaining a healthy weight contributes to a lower risk of disease. Vegetarians weigh approximately 10 percent less than non-vegetarians, on average. Eating meat increases your risk of obesity, which contributes to conditions that include high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
More ethical - Many vegetarians refuse to eat meat because they object to the suffering of animals. They do not want to support factory farming that sometimes involves overcrowding and inhumane conditions for the animals, not to mention the pain of butchering. Other objectionable aspects of the system include the prevalence with which chickens are left to sit in small cages and the slaughter of young animals such as calves for veal.
Environmentally responsible - Thirty percent of the world’s freshwater supply is taken by livestock production, and the need for more land for grazing animals has led to deforestation. A gallon of gasoline is used for every pound of beef produced, so when you eliminate meat from your diet you lower your carbon footprint.
Unlike vegetarians, vegans exclusively eat plant-based foods and avoid dishes that include any animal products, including dairy.
Favorite foods for vegans include:
Getting enough protein is one of the most important concerns for someone becoming a vegan. Meat is where omnivores get their protein, but there are many alternatives to animal products, says an article by Healthline.
Tofu - Made from soybeans, tofu and tempeh provide the full range of amino acids to those who include them in their diet. Edamame, popular with Asian dishes, are immature soybeans that are typically boiled or steamed before serving.
Nutritional yeast - Sold as a powder or flakes, nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast and provides 3 grams of fiber in addition to 8 grams of protein. It tastes somewhat like cheese, so it’s often sprinkled onto pasta and added to dishes such as scrambled tofu and mashed potatoes.
Seitan - Sometimes referred to as wheat meat, seitan is made from gluten and resembles meat when cooked. By consuming 3.5 ounces of seitan, you obtain approximately 25 grams of protein. It also provides iron, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium.
Green peas - With 9 grams of protein per 1 cup of cooked peas, vegans get a nutritional boost by adding them to soups, pasta and sauces.
Wild rice - Containing 1.5 times the protein found in other varieties of long-grain rice, wild rice is nutritious, in part, because it isn’t stripped of its bran. It must be washed before use and boiled completely, however, because rice crops from polluted areas can accumulate arsenic and other metals such as lead.
In addition to dietary restriction, there are also lifestyle decisions that many vegans consider important. Individuals who believe in preserving the health and welfare of all animals refrain from wearing clothes or using accessories made of leather. Strict vegans reject the use of any animal by-product such as honey, wool, or silk because they feel it exploits the habitat of the animals that produce them.
It’s always a good idea to evaluate your eating habits and consider making healthy changes. The good news is you can tailor it to your own needs, whether you ease into a practice such as reducing your red meat intake or go cold turkey and become a vegan.
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