So you’ve carried out your Meatless Mondays and thought, “Hey, I could swing this whole vegetarian thing.” Or maybe veganism has created such a buzz around you that you’re thinking of quitting animal products for good.
Is it good enough to just do what you can by skipping it a few times per week? More than one quarter of us make a concerted effort to reduce the amount of meat we eat, intentionally preparing vegetarian meals in addition to fare that includes flesh.
Yet in the US, we still eat much more meat than other populations. We’ve been known to consume more than 250 pounds per person annually, in fact. If you can believe it, the only country that eats more meat than Americans do is Luxembourg, the European country which covers an area smaller than 1,000 square miles. And they don’t edge us out by that much.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see that vegetarianism and veganism are catching on, with estimates showing that plant-based diets have risen 500% or more in popularity in the last five years. While many go meat-free for environmental and ethical reasons, you should know that there’s plenty in it just for you, too.
Here are five side effects that you could personally experience when you leave the meat at the store.
- Your digestion will change.
One thing’s for sure – a diet comprised of plants provides a lot more fiber. Fiber’s great for a number of reasons, but it can also cause bloating and gas. When you begin filling up with more fiber-rich foods, you may be turned off by this aspect, but hang tight.
Your digestive system is undergoing a big, beneficial overhaul. As you continue eating more fruits and veggies (and no meat), your intestines are hard at work, building larger, stronger populations of the good kind of bacteria.
Meat, eggs, and dairy, incidentally, do not do this. They can actually encourage bad bacteria to proliferate, bacteria that contribute to the buildup of cholesterol. Good bacteria encourage proper hormone production, better moods, and much more.
That bloating you got from veggies and legumes (beans, anyone?) is just temporary. As your body adjusts to the new, powerful fiber and nutrients you’re getting, you’ll find your abdomen getting flatter.
- You’ll lose weight.
If you’re a serious calorie counter, you probably think you have the weight thing handled. And you’re right – people who keep their calories at a level targeted for weight loss do lose, just like those who eat a plant-based diet.
But vegetarians lose more weight, as well as a different type of fat. A 2017 study pits vegetarianism against a common weight loss diet for diabetics. The vegetarians lost more subcutaneous fat, which is the stuff you can most readily see, right underneath your skin.
The also lost subfascial and intramuscular fat at a rate which the low-cal diabetes diet couldn’t compete with. These deeper layers of fat impact the speed of your metabolism, making a veg diet the most efficient way to get lean.
- Your heart will be healthier.
In 2017, one study examining the effects of five different types of diets found that the one focused on plants could reduce your chances of suffering heart failure by more than 43%. Huge! So how does it work?
There’s already a clear link between fiber and heart health, thanks to that protection from cholesterol buildup. Heart failure is frequently the result of cholesterol blockages which prevent the heart from pumping as much blood as it should.
In addition, unlike meat-heavy diets, plant-based diets reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to autoimmune disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and a multitude of other potentially deadly illnesses. The anti-inflammatory action of this diet comes from the fiber, but also the phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables.
- Your hair, skin, and nails will change.
If you want to know how well your plant-based diet is going, just look in the mirror. If you’re reducing or eliminating dairy, chances are any acne you’ve had will begin to fade within six weeks. Even the dairy industry admits that dairy can cause acne, due in part to the introduction of added hormones.
But hair and nails are made up of protein, and need protein to grow. So how does cutting out meat, our most beloved source of protein, help? Well, for starters, a diet that includes daily servings of meat and dairy provides about twice the amount of protein you actually need. Too much protein leaves you open to weight gain, inflammation, and disease.
There’s also a lot to be said about the kind of protein vegans and vegetarians eat – and yes, it’s easy to get enough on a healthy, plant-based diet. Nuts and seeds are great sources of plant protein, as well as many vitamins and minerals that contribute to shinier hair and stronger nails.
A handful of raw almonds, for instance, contains twice the biotin that an egg does, plus Vitamin E.
- You’ll transform your DNA.
Hearing that something is genetic feels like a roadblock, does it not? Like we have no control over what’s been handed down to us. That’s changing, as we’ve discovered that our lifestyles play a big part in how our genes affect our health.
Healthy plant foods can essentially teach your genes to undo the damage, and in some cases, suppress genes that cause us harm. One study found that a dietary overhaul was all men with a genetic predisposition for prostate cancer needed to help stunt that gene’s activity.
HERE’S THE CATCH: It’s vital to avoid meat if you want these benefits, but you have to do a plant-based diet right to get the full effects. Grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries are, after all, vegetarian.
A good plant-based diet includes a whole rainbow of foods that naturally contain carbs, protein, fat, and fiber. Instead of fried foods and refined carbs, fill up on leafy greens, whole fruits, lentils, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds, root vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables.