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During the holidays, we often eat “traditional” meals that include meat and poultry. But have you ever thought about “going meatless” and choosing to become a vegetarian?

There are many reasons that people choose to become a vegetarian. Some are compelled by environmental reasons, others by health reasons, some by economic or aestheic reasons, and others are compelled by religious or ethical concerns. Today, six to eight million adults in the United States are vegetarians and there are millions more in Europe, India, and the Middle East.

While eating a plant-based diet is one part of becoming vegetarian, there are many aspects to this lifestyle choice that are beneficial. According to Kathy Freston, author of The Veganist, a vegetarian (or vegan) diet will:

Help you find and maintain your ideal body weight
Plant-based foods are naturally low in fat and fiber. Vegetarians and vegans, contrary to commonly held beliefs, have no trouble getting enough protein in their diet.

Lower your risks for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes
Animal protein (meat, dairy, and eggs) is believed to create an acidic environment in the body, alter the proportions of hormones in the body in favor of cell growth, alter important enzyme activities to increase the activation of carcinogens, and cause inflammation and cellular proliferation. All of these create an environment in which cancer cells can thrive.

Increase your lifespan
The current generation of children may be the first generation of human beings to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This is due, in part, to a diet high in animal fat and a lifestyle low in exercise.

Reduce your risk of food-borne diseases
All food poisoning (foodborne illnesses, bacteria, and antibiotic-resistant infections) come from animals, including humans. Over 95 percent of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat come from factory farms where animals are pumped full of drugs (including hormones and antibiotics) designed to rapidly increase their weight, improve their productivity, and keep them alive in deplorable conditions. These conditions, and the millions of gallons of waste dumped in to open-air cesspits, contribute to the contamination of their meat and the water used to irrigate crops.

Save you money
A vegetarian diet can be had for just pennies a day. A vegetarian diet reduces the costs associated with meat-based diseases. And that “cheap” hamburger that costs just a few dollars at a fast food restaurant actually costs over $200 to bring to your plate.

Increase the amount of food available to the globally poor
If 1 in 10 people in the world would stop eating animals, it would free up enough food to feed over 1 billion hungry people.

Reduce animal suffering 

Nearly 10 billion animals are slaughtered for food each year. Egg-laying hens are crammed into tiny cages, cattle often are dehorned and castrated without pain killers, many animals are dismembered or scalded while still alive, and pigs are kept in gestation crates for their entire lives.

Reduce greenhouse gases
Raising animals for food leads to a steady stream of methane and nitrous oxide (leading global warming gases) responsible for approximately 18% to 25% of global warming. Farm animals are considered one of the leading causes of slashing and burning of the world’s forests.

Support your spiritual growth
Many spiritual traditions (such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism) include vegetarianism as a part of daily life. Many spiritual practices view vegetarianism as a basic prerequisite to help promote calm, and improve the energy and hormonal balance of the body. They support the philosophies of compassion, kindness, and the reduction of suffering of all sentient beings.

For many individuals, becoming a vegetarian is a major shift in lifestyle. However, making this shift need not be difficult. Once you know about the many economic, health, environmental, ethical, and social reasons for vegetarianism, you can simply “sit” with them. As you begin to learn more about this lifestyle, and if it resonates with you, “lean into” changing your diet and your life by making small, steady changes. For example, choose to have meat only a few times a week, and when you purchase the meat, be sure it is organic, non-GMO fed, humanely raised, etc. Then gradually make the shift to a completely meatless diet. When you eat with compassion, thoughtfulness, and mindfulness, you may find yourself experiencing a sense of connectedness to the larger world. Try it…and see what you experience.

Interesting Facts About Vegetarianism

    • A plant-based diet increases the body’s metabolic rate, causes the body to burn calories up to 16% faster than a diet based on meat for the first 3 hours after meals.
    • 70% of the world’s vegetarians live in India and there are more vegetarians in India than any other country in the world.
    • Benjamin Franklin was an early American vegetarian although he began eating meat again later in life. He introduced tofu to America in 1770. Other famous vegetarians include Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Brad Pitt, Albert Einstein, and Ozzy Osborne.
    • There are several types of vegetarians. The strictest type is a vegan who avoids all animal products, including meat. An ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and diary products. An ovo-vegetarian will eat eggs but not other dairy products. Jain vegetarians will eat dairy products but not eggs, honey, or root vegetables. A pescetarian is a vegetarian who eats fish. Ethical vegans are vegans who reject the commodity status of animals or animals that are used for food, shelter, or clothing.
    • The only vegetables with all types of amino acids in sufficient amounts are lupin beans, soy, hempseed, chia seed, amarnth, buckwheat, and quinoa. However, the essential amino acids can be obtained by eating a wide variety of vegetables.
    • A vegetarian diet could feed more people than a meat-based diet. In the United States, for example, about 80% of the corn produced and 95% of the oats grown are eaten by livestock. By some estimates, approximately 1.3 billion people could be fed by the grain and soybeans that are currently fed to U.S. livestock.
    • Vegetarians often choose to avoid meat because of their ethical objections to animal cruelty. For example, the Humane Slaughter Act does not include poultry. Therefore, poultry are not required to be stunned before they are shackled and have their throats slit. Some are still alive when they are submerged in a scalding tank (used to help remove their feathers). Those that are still alive are called “redskins.”
    • The United States kills over 500,000 animals for meat every single hour.
    • Vegetarians only have a slightly lower protein intake than those who eat meat. Many studies have confirmed that vegetarian diets provide enough protein as long as a variety of plant sources are eaten.
    • The vegetarian movement has been influenced by ancient ethical philosophies including abstinence, early medical science that noted similarities between humans and animals, and the Indian philosophy that promotes kindness to animals.
    • Vegetarians have lower body mass indices, lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of type 2 diabetes, and lower rates of many forms of cancer.
    • Many scientists argue that the human body is capable of digesting meat but was actually designed to be an herbivore. One example that they say supports this argument is that human molars are flat and blunt, similar to that of other herbivores, which makes them good for grinding. We lack sharp teeth used for tearing and gnashing flesh.

      REFERENCES

      Cox, Peter. 2002. You Don’t Need Meat. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books.

      Foer, Jonathan Safran. 2009. Eating Animals. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

      Robbins, John. 1987. Diet for a New America. Tiburon, CA: Stillpoint Publishing.

      Saunders, Kerrie K. (2003). The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention. New York, NY: Lantern Books.

      Spencer, Colin. 2000. Vegetarianism: A History. New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows.

      Stuart, Tristram. 2006. The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

      Williams, Amanda. (November 23, 2012). Vegetarians Have a Better Sex Life’: Eating Tofu Can Boost You in the Bedroom, New Study Claims. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2237258/Vegetarians-better-sex-life-Eating-tofu-boost-bedroom-new-study-claims.html .