“Plant based diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”
Dietetic Association, June 2003 position paper
Heart disease claims the life of nearly one out of every two Americans. Adopting a vegetarian diet is a powerful way to prevent heart attacks. Animal foods are high in saturated fat, but plant foods are low in saturated fat. Since cholesterol is found only in animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs, plant foods are cholesterol-free. The most powerful cholesterol-lowing agents are soluble fiber, unsaturated fats, and phytochemicals, all of which are found almost exclusively in plant foods. In the seventeen studies conducted between 1978 and 2002, the average vegan’s cholesterol level was a mere 160 mg/dl, while the average non-vegetarian’s cholesterol was 202 mg/dl. It’s not surprising that vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% reduced risk of dying of heart disease. It is likely that vegetarians could cut their risk of heart disease even further by increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B12. Physicians such as Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have actually stopped and even reversed heart disease in patients by putting them on programs that include plant-based diets.
People who eat plant based diets have considerably lower rates of several types of cancer than non-vegetarians. The Adventist Health Study found that non-vegetarians had a 54% increased risk for prostate cancer and an 88% increased risk for colorectal cancer, even after controlling for age, sex, and smoking. Numerous studies show much lower cancer rates in countries which have largely plant-based diets.
Obesity and Diabetes
Approximately 65% of the U.S. population is overweight and 31% is obese. Vegans have much lower rates of obesity, and on average weigh 10% less than non-vegetarians. In addition to looking slimmer, being lighter reduces the risk of a myriad of health problems including respiratory problems, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
In a study of over 25,000 Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians were found to have significantly lower rates of diabetes. Among men in the study, risk for diabetes was a whopping 80% higher in men who ate meat, after adjusting for weight.
The health benefits of a plant based diet are impressive. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, nutritional researcher at Cornell University and director of the largest epidemiological study in history, says, “The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.”
The American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization of nutrition professionals, states that vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other health problems. By adopting a nutritious plant based diet, you will likely lose unwanted weight, have more energy, and dramatically lower your risk of various diseases.
A healthy, balanced plant based diet rich in beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—along with a bit of vitamins B12 and D—will give you everything that your body needs. But if you often eat on the go and don’t always have time to eat nutritious meals, taking a regular multivitamin might be a good option.
It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf-you can take control of your health.