If you’ve been dabbling into vegetarianism or have sworn off meat for good, you are not alone. Around six to eight million people in the US don’t consume meat, fish, or chicken, according to a poll commissioned by the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group. Several million more have eliminated red meat but still eat chicken or fish. And an additional two million have become vegans.
While there is a risk of certain deficiencies when following a vegan or vegetarian diet, the short- and long-term benefits of reducing or eliminating your meat consumption are staggering, from an increase in energy to a significant decrease in the likelihood for diabetes, high cholesterol, and even cancer. Here are the 10 things that happen immediately and over time when you stop eating meat.
After One Day
When you consuming plenty of healthful foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, you’ll likely receive a natural boost of energy from the support of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. However, you might also feel a bit fatigued. If you’re used to consuming a high-protein diet and then dramatically cut it, you will naturally feel a bit sluggish.
Beyond how you feel, the environmental effects of going vegetarian, even for just a day, are impressive and incentivizing. On average, a meat eater has twice the carbon footprint of a vegan. And going vegetarian just for 24 hours, like the Meatless Monday movement, can not only save animal lives, but it also reduces water consumption and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. In fact, global livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Decreasing large-scale meat production consumption can help you, animals, and the environment.
After One Week
Gut health is vital for overall wellness, and your gut bacteria love plant-based diets. The fiber in plants promotes the abundant growth of good bacteria, and your gut bacterial patterns can shift positively even in only a few days. Adversely, diets high in meat, eggs, and dairy can encourage the growth of toxic, disease-promoting bacteria, which can lead to an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke.
After One Month
In addition to improved gut health and energy levels, vegetarian and vegan diets have a natural tendency to reduce your calorie intake. Many plant-based diets are more effective at cutting excess weight than meat-included diets, even when vegan participants are allowed to eat as much as they’d like. One study, in particular, noted that vegan diets can help participants lose 9.3 pounds more than a controlled diet over an 18-week period.
In addition, plant-based diets are naturally anti-inflammatory. It sounds innocent enough, but inflammation in the body is a serious issue. One study showed that vegetarian diets result in the decrease of a particular type of inflammation in the body (called C-reactive protein or CRP), which is directly linked to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
After Six Months
After months of a plant-based diet, the benefits for long-term health will kick in. In fact, meatless diets have a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. An estimated 38 percent of Americans have prediabetes—a precursor to type 2 diabetes—and animal protein, especially red and processed meat, has been shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. So much so that those who follow a plant-based diet can have up to a 78 percent lowered risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
That said, 75 percent of vegans consistently have less than the daily recommended amount of calcium and have relatively higher rates of bone fractures compared to meat eaters. So consuming calcium supplements would be ideal for most people on a plant-based diet.
After a Year
Removing meat, especially red meat, out of your diet can have dramatic disease-reducing benefits. In one of the largest studies ever conducted on health benefits related to vegetarianism, over 76,000 participants were analyzed, and scientists discovered that people with plant-based diets were 25 percent less likely to die of heart disease.
And according to the World Health Organization, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by factors within your control, including diet. There is still more research needed for conclusive evidence, but initial studies have shown that eating at least seven portions of fresh fruits and vegetables per day may lower your risk of dying from cancer by up to 15 percent. Specifically, eliminating red meat from your diet can reduce your risk factor for colon cancer.
On top of you being healthier, the Earth will be too. Animal agriculture is destructive to the planet. It is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is a leading cause of water use, deforestation, and wildlife destruction. For seafood, the oceans are rapidly becoming depleted of fish, and it’s estimated that oceans may be fishless by 2048.
Reducing your reliance on meat, both for yourself and the Earth, can have life-altering benefits. Why not pass up the meat and give peas (and greens) a chance?
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