By Kristin Sidorov
For some, a meal without meat doesn’t seem like a meal at all. But research proves that opting for a vegetarian diet can have enormous benefits, not only on your health—just ask Bill Clinton—but on your wallet, your waistline, and the planet. Diet fads have been shifting toward a veggie-centric lifestyle and meat alternatives are commonplace.
But if you’re a true meat-lover who simply can’t face saying goodbye, there’s good news: You don’t have to. Reaping the rewards of a vegetarian lifestyle is still possible by making a few simple changes, starting with the way you think about food.
Listen, we all know that finding a balance in your diet that’s right for you can be extremely challenging, and if you’re looking to go veg but simply can’t make the jump to full-time vegetarian, that’s okay. Instead, nutritionists advise flipping the way you think about food – rather than meat-based meals with a side of veggies, try adopting a diet of veggie-based meals with an occasional side of lean meat.
Cutting back on your meat intake can still provide a lot of the same benefits as foregoing animal-protein altogether. Here are some of the top reasons to opt for a plant-based diet.
1. To stay slim. Studies have shown that those who regularly consume red and processed meats tend to weigh more and, on average, gain more weight per year than those who don’t. Diets full of meat also contain much more calorie-laden, saturated fats. In addition, those who pay close attention to the foods they put in their body also tend to be health conscious in other areas of their life, like exercising regularly, abstaining from smoking, and consuming alcohol in healthy moderation.
2. To prevent disease. A plant-based diet helps to ward off heart disease and can reduce your risk of cancer. By consuming less cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat, eating less meat can help reduce cholesterol rates and lower blood pressure. It can also aid in preventing Type 2 diabetes, and studies show that a reduction in red meat and high-fat dairy can drastically reduce the risk of certain cancers.
3. To help preserve our planet. The meat industry’s impact on the environment is much more harmful than plant production. The chemical and waste runoff from some factory farms can cause a devastating amount of pollution and agricultural damage. Plant farming requires much less energy for production, but does need high-quality land, which can be difficult to find and maintain. Animals, on the other hand, can live on lower-quality land. There’s a bit of a trade-off, but a diet that is overall plant-based is the best for staying green.
4. To help your wallet. Eating less meat means buying less meat, and that can help save you cash. One pound of dried beans costs a little over $1, while one pound of ground beef can cost upward of $4. Estimates show that replacing just a portion of the meat that the average American consumes in one year with vegetables, grains, and fruits can cut an individual’s annual food bill by more than $3,000. Healthcare costs for medical issues like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and cholesterol (all tied to an animal-based diet) average nearly $190 billion.
5. To live longer. The kinds of foods frequently consumed in plant-based diets—like veggies, fruits, legumes, and nuts—all contribute to a reduction in diseases and boost your overall health, which can help add years to your life. And because those who follow a plant-based diet tend to have more energy and exercise more, they’re more likely to have strong, healthy hearts and have a steady, healthy weight.
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