Whether you are considering a vegan or vegetarian diet for health or ethical reasons, there are some things you should consider.
A vegan is considered a total vegetarian. Vegans do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
Some vegetarians eat a primarily plant-based diet but include eggs, dairy products and sometimes also fish.
People become vegetarians for many reasons, including, religious convictions, concerns about animal welfare or the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or a desire to eat in a way that avoids excessive use of environmental resources.
For Your Health
The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that 1.6 million Canadians are living with heart disease or the effects of a stroke.
The increased intake of dietary fiber, coupled with the lower consumption of foods high in saturated fats, help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels contribute to the clogged arteries of heart disease, which increases the risk of heart attack.
For heart protection, it’s best to choose high-fiber whole grains and legumes, which are digested slowly and have a low glycemic index — that is, they help keep blood sugar levels steady. Soluble fiber also helps reduce cholesterol levels. Refined carbohydrates and starches like potatoes, white rice, and white-flour products cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, which increases the risk of heart attack and diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease). It’s also vital to replace saturated and trans fats with good fats, such as those found in nuts, olive oil, and canola oil.
Cutting out fatty meats and full-fat dairy products, while adding high fiber, filling foods can result in a lower calorie intake making it easier for you to maintain a healthy weight. This, in turn, will provide many health benefits, such as increased energy, healthy hair and skin, and the self-confidence that comes from a positive self-image.
Live longer, healthier
Residents of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world, according to a 30-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.
Vegans have healthier gut bacteria
The gut bacteria of vegans appear to be superior to those of omnivores, containing more bacteria that decrease inflammation. In particular, vegan gut flora tends to be higher in a species called Faecal bacterium prausnitzii, bacteria that protect the cells of the colon, and lower in harmful E. coli. A higher consumption of plant-based foods typically increases fiber and feeds healthy bacteria.
The vegetarian diet is ideal for anyone suffering from GERD, a chronic digestive disease, with acid reflux as its most common ailment. A plant-based diet is lower in the fat and less likely to trigger heartburn.
You don’t have to go all the way
You can get many of the health benefits of vegetarianism without going all the way. For example, a Mediterranean-eating pattern — known to be associated with longer life and reduced risk of several chronic illnesses — features an emphasis on plant foods with a sparing use of meat. Even if you don’t want to become a complete vegetarian, you can steer your diet in that direction with a few simple substitutions, such as plant-based sources of protein — beans or tofu, for example — or fish instead of meat a couple of times a week.
You’ll save money
And if all those reasons aren’t convincing enough, consider that you’ll also save money due to the continually rising cost of meat, not to mention all the blood pressure medication you won’t be needing!