A vegetarian diet is one in which you abstain from consuming animal-derived foods, including meat, poultry, and seafood. A 2022 Statista Global Consumer survey found that about 7% of American adults follow a vegetarian diet. As more meat-free options become available at grocery stores and restaurants, the number of people who consume a plant-based diet is expected to rise.
People might follow a vegetarian diet for various reasons, including concerns about animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and personal health. If you're considering a vegetarian diet, there are many evidence-based advantages to going meat-free.
Key Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
There are different ways to follow a vegetarian diet. For instance, if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you avoid most animal derived products but you also consume eggs and dairy products. And not every vegetarian diet is healthy. For instance, if can consume a lot of highly processed grain-based foods, you may not get adequate nutrition - even though your diet is technically plant-based. So since vegetarian diets vary, the benefits you gain can also vary. But if you consume a balanced vegetarian diet, you're likely to take advantage of these benefits.
Plant-based diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods and are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients that can support your overall health and well-being. And you're much more likely to get the recommended intake of fruits and veggies if you build your meals around plant-based foods.
Studies have consistently shown that vegetarian diets offer several health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. In addition, vegetarians often have lower cholesterol levels and lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared to non-vegetarians.
Plant-based diets may help with weight loss because they often involve eating more whole, unprocessed foods that are filling but not high in calories. These foods are usually higher in fiber and healthy fats, which can help with initial weight loss and maintaining healthy body weight.
Not only is eating a plant-based diet often better for human health, it also provides benefits to the environment. By eating a vegetarian diet, we reduce the need for animal farming.
The production of animal-based products significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and animal and plant biodiversity loss, leading to environmental and climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from vegetarian diets are 35% lower than omnivore diets. Adopting a vegetarian diet can reduce your carbon footprint and support the conservation of the planet's natural resources.
Many people follow a vegetarian diet out of concern for the animals raised for food, dairy products, and eggs. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 11 billion animals are raised and killed yearly in the U.S. for meat, eggs, and milk. Animals on factory farms are confined to crowded, inhumane living conditions. Choosing a plant-based diet is a way to support the more humane and ethical treatment of animals.
Choosing vegetarian options can reduce household food costs and make it easier to stick to a budget. Oxford University researchers found that plant-based diets can reduce grocery bills by up to 33%. Even flexitarian diets - eating only the occasional meal with meat or dairy - can reduce costs by 14%.
Vegetarian diets can be less expensive than those that include meat, as plant-based protein sources - such as beans and lentils - are often cheaper than animal-derived protein sources.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies can benefit your digestive health. These foods are lower in fat and higher in beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, which helps reduce digestive problems, such as constipation and acid reflux (heartburn). In addition, research shows that a plant-based diet promotes the development of a diverse, stable gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome supports a healthy digestive system and overall health. In addition, a vegetarian diet may be less likely to trigger inflammatory reactions in the body, which can lead to improved gut health.
Should You Go Vegetarian?
Overall, vegetarianism benefits your health, your budget, animals, and the environment. While a vegetarian diet may not be suitable for everyone, it can be a healthy and sustainable choice for those interested in exploring plant-based options.
If you're on the fence, consider cutting meat and other animal products from your diet two days a week and see how you feel. Check out these quick & easy vegetarian recipes and vegetarian soup recipes for tasty meal ideas that are sure to please.