16 Million people in the US have left meat (read), nearly a third of Britons have reduced their meat consumption over the last year, according to the British Social Attitudes survey
Pollsters found 29 per cent of people had reduced their consumption of meat in the last year, nine per cent said they were considering reducing their meat intake or cutting it out entirely, and about three per cent were already vegetarian or vegan.
Vowing to ditch steaks and burgers in favour of a vegetarian lifestyle may have crossed your mind for ethical reasons or because of concerns about red meat and health.
People go plant-based for lots of reasons. These include losing weight, feeling more energetic, reducing the risk of heart disease, decreasing the number of pills they take … there are dozens of great reasons!
So, what actually happens to your body when you stop eating meat?
1. You lose weight
A team at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington in the US recently tried pinpoint how much weight a person loses if they switch from being an omnivore to a vegetarian.
The research, which reviewed previous studies and was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed participants who cut meat out of their diets lost around 10lbs on average without monitoring their calorie intake or increasing the amount they exercised.
“The take-home message is that a plant-based diet can help you lose weight without counting calories and without ramping up your exercise routine,” Neal Barnard, M.D., lead author of the study and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University, said at the time.
2. Your gut bacteria will change
The saying goes you are what you eat, and that relates to your digestive system as much as any other part of your body.
A 2014 study exploring the difference between the gut bacteria found in omnivores, vegans and vegetarians found differences in all three.
However, the biggest variation was between omnivores and vegans – who don’t consume any animal products whatsoever.
Researchers at City University of New York found that vegans had more protective species of gut bacteria.
3. You’ll change how your genes work
Scientists have made the remarkable discovery that environmental and lifestyle factors can turn genes on and off. For example, the antioxidants and other nutrients we eat in whole plant foods can change gene expression to optimize how our cells repair damaged DNA. Research has also shown that lifestyle changes, including a plant-based diet, can decrease the expression of cancer genes in men with low-risk prostate cancer. We’ve even seen that a plant-based diet, along with other lifestyle changes, can lengthen our telomeres—the caps at the end of our chromosomes that help keep our DNA stable. This might mean that our cells and tissues age more slowly, since shortened telomeres are associated with aging and earlier death.4. Your risk of developing cancer could drop…
A recent World Health Organisation report classed processed meat as carcinogenic, and so products such as bacon and salami found themselves categorized alongside formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Red meat was also labelled as “probably” having cancer causing properties.
Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon a day – increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded.
However, while this sounds like a significant rise, the 18-per cent rise in the risk of bowel cancer the IARC scientists warned of is from the base level that around 6 in every 100 people in the UK will get bowel cancer – not in total for each person.
Therefore, the rise would translate to one extra case of bowel cancer in all those 100 lifetime bacon-eaters.
5. You’ll dramatically reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes
An estimated 38% of Americans have prediabetes—a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Animal protein, especially red and processed meat, has been shown in study afterstudy to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In the Adventist population, omnivores have double the rate of diabetes compared with vegans, even accounting for differences in body weight. In fact, in this population, eating meat once a week or more over a 17-year period increased the risk of diabetes by 74%! Similarly, in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and Nurses Health Study, increasing red meat intake by more than just half a serving per day was associated with a 48% increased risk in diabetes over 4 years.
Why would meat cause type 2 diabetes? Several reasons: animal fat, animal-based (heme) iron, and nitrate preservatives in meat have been found to damage pancreatic cells, worsen inflammation, cause weight gain, and impair the way our insulin functions.
You will dramatically lessen your chances of getting type 2 diabetes by leaving animal products off of your plate and eating a diet based in whole plant foods. This is especially true if you eat whole grains, which are highly protective against type 2 diabetes. You read that right: carbs actually protect you from diabetes! Also, a plant-based diet can improve or even reverse your diabetes if you’ve already been diagnosed.
6. …as well as your chance of having heart disease
Scientists recently found that red meat is linked to heart disease. A study be Lerner Research Institute in the US showed that carnitine, a nutrient found in the food, sets of gut microbe reactions which contribute to the development of heart disease.
“This adds to the growing body of data reinforcing a connection between red meat, carnitine ingestion and heart disease development,” said lead author Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of Translational Research for the Lerner Research Institute and Section Head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation, according to a report by the Cleveland Health Clinic.
7. Your blood cholesterol levels will plummet.
Elevated blood cholesterol is a key risk factor for heart disease and strokes, two of the leading killers in the United States. Saturated fat—primarily found in meat, poultry, cheese, and other animal products—is a major driver of our blood cholesterol levels.Cholesterol in our food also plays a role.
Studies consistently show that when people go plant based, their blood cholesterol levels drop by up to 35% . In many cases, the decrease is equal to that seen with drug therapy—with many positive side effects! People who require cholesterol-lowering drugs can further slash their cholesterol levels and cardiovascular risk by adopting a plant-based diet.
Whole-food, plant-based diets reduce blood cholesterol because they tend to be very low in saturated fat and they contain zero cholesterol. Moreover, plant-based diets are high in fiber, which further reduces blood cholesterol levels. Soy has also been shown to play a role in lowering cholesterol, for those who choose to include it.
8. You’ll reduce inflammation in your body.
If you are eating meat, cheese, and highly processed foods, chances are you haveelevated levels of inflammation in your body. While short-term inflammation (such as after an injury) is normal and necessary, inflammation that lasts for months or years is not. Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, among other conditions.
In contrast, plant-based diets are naturally anti-inflammatory, because they are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients, and much lower in inflammatory triggers like saturated fat and endotoxins (toxins released from bacteria commonly found in animal foods). Studies have shown that people who adopt plant-based diets candramatically lower their level of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation in the body.
9. You’ll make a huge impact on the health of our planet and its inhabitants
Animal agriculture is extremely destructive to the planet. It is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and is a leading cause of land and water use, deforestation, wildlife destruction, and species extinction. About 2,000 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef in the U.S. Our oceans are rapidly becoming depleted of fish; by some estimates, oceans may be fishless by 2048. The current food system, based on meat and dairy production, also contributes to world hunger—the majority of crops grown worldwide go toward feeding livestock, not feeding people.
Equally important, animals raised for food are sentient beings who suffer, whether raised in industrial factory farms or in farms labeled “humane.” Eating a plant-based diet helps us lead a more compassionate life. After all, being healthy is not just about the food we eat; it’s also about our consciousness—our awareness of how our choices affect the planet and all of those with whom we share it.