Why Do People Become Vegetarians?

There are a number of good reasons to eat a plant-based diet. We've broken them down to help you decide.

Updated April 13, 2022
Vegetarian food prep

There are a few reasons that people become vegetarians. Some people simply don't like the taste or texture of meat. But there are other considerations, as well.

If you're thinking about going vegetarian, ask yourself a few questions. Are you an animal lover? Are you concerned about the environment? Do you feel better when you omit meat and poultry from your diets, or do you have health concerns about eating these foods? Getting clarity on these issues can help you to decide if a plant-based diet is right for you.

5 Reasons to Become Vegetarian

There is no right or wrong reason to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. There is also no correct or incorrect way to follow a vegetarian diet. But it can be helpful to delve into the various issues surrounding this plant-based diet to see if one resonates with you.

1. To Support Animal Rights

One reason that some people decide to become vegetarian is concern over the way that animals are raised and the way they are treated in food production.

According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), many animals are forced to live in overcrowded, inhumane conditions before they are killed and used for food. In addition, some animals are given antibiotics to prevent disease caused by their living conditions and to promote weight gain, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Organizations like the ASPCA and NRDC point out that the slaughtering process is violent and stressful. Likewise, many of these animals are killed for meat while they are very young. For example, according to the USDA, veal is made from calves that are only about 5 months old.

People who believe these practices are wrong often choose a vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons. Vegetarians and vegans may avoid products like gelatin, yeast, dairy products, and meat. They may also avoid wearing wool or leather to support animal rights.

2. To Save Money

Let's face it, meat and dairy products can be pricey. Some people become vegetarians to help relieve their strained budgets.

While meat is the preferred source of protein for many people, there are other plant-based proteins that cost less. For instance, legumes and some grains provide essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and can be an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients. These foods are almost always less expensive than meat, especially if you buy in bulk.

And while fresh produce may seem expensive, if you replace meat with produce you are likely to pay less. According to a study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, meat-eaters are likely to pay nearly $750 more per year than those who consume a plant-based diet.

3. To Help Save the Environment

Some people become vegetarians because of the impact that eating meat has on the environment. Increasingly, there have been media reports and research studies detailing the impact of meat consumption on the planet, particularly on climate change.

For example, farmers deforest land to create more grazing lands. According to one report, farmers use 2,500 gallons of water and 12 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. That grain could be used to feed thousands of people. And according to Time magazine, livestock production uses about 30% of the world's fresh water supply.

Some public health experts are concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria because farm animals are given sub-therapeutic levels of those drugs for weight gain and to prevent disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 2 million Americans are sickened by antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and these infections are difficult to treat.

4. For Religious Reasons

Vegetarianism is an element of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. For those who hold these beliefs, living a vegetarian lifestyle advocates nonviolence and is part of spiritual fulfillment. Other religions that promote vegetarianism are Seventh Day Adventists and Jains.

5. To Improve Health

Many people give up meat for health reasons. Some research has suggested that a meat-based diet contributes to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. In addition, some are concerned that meat is sometimes injected with hormones or preservatives that they find objectionable.

Others give up meat because they just feel healthier when they avoid those food products.

Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

The health benefits of a plant-based diet have been explored by dietitians and nutrition researchers in great detail. Studies confirm there are advantages to eating vegetarian foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and soy. These foods can help promote a healthier, longer life.

Better Heart Health

Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death in the U.S. Statistics show men who eat red meat have an increased chance of developing heart disease and other illnesses. In fact, recent research has suggested that eating red meat can increase the risk of dying from eight different diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, liver disease, respiratory illness, infections, and kidney disease.

Improved Metabolic Health

According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolic syndrome is an illness characterized by high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and extra weight around the midsection. People with this syndrome have a high risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Studies have suggested that a vegetarian diet that includes fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts, vegetable oils, soy, and possibly dairy products and or eggs can reduce the risk of developing this syndrome.

May Reduce Cancer Risk

A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found that young women who eat red meat often have an increased risk of breast cancer. According to their findings, one serving of meat, eaten every day, is associated with a 22% increased risk of developing breast cancer before menopause.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies red meat as a "probable carcinogen." And The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies processed meat (like hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats) as a carcinogen. A carcinogen is something that causes cancer.

Studies also indicate eating a vegetarian diet helps to reduce your risk of certain cancers such as prostate cancer.

Can Help Support a Healthy Weight

Consuming a healthy plant-based diet may help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. But even vegetarians can eat too many sweets or starchy carbohydrates, which can pack on unwanted pounds.

However, research studies have consistently shown that choosing a plant-based diet can help reduce body fat in overweight and obese adults. The reduction in fat may occur because vegetarian foods often have fewer calories than their meat-based counterparts. But it may also occur because choosing a vegetarian diet requires that you make more thoughtful decisions about food.

Should You Become a Vegetarian?

There are many good reasons to be vegetarian. But everyone's personal perspective and nutritional needs are different. If you are thinking about adopting a plant-based diet, start slowly and see how it feels. You can start by reducing your intake of red meat and then (if it feels right) eliminate it altogether. Continue this process with other meat and dairy products.

If you feel that you are not getting the nutrition you need to carry out your typical daily activities, reach out to a registered dietitian for guidance. A credentialed professional can work with you to develop a diet that is both sustainable and enjoyable.

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Why Do People Become Vegetarians?