One of the keys to healthy vegetarian diet is the colour of your vegetables.
A vegetarian is defined as “a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious or health reasons; excluding meat from the diet.” The vegetarian lifestyle has been around for millennia, and the Vedic texts from ancient India, which are believed to be around 5,000 years old, supported the practice of a vegetarian diet (western scholars generally place the texts at around 1500 BC). It used to be widespread practice to abstain from eating the flesh of animals, but slowly phased out as time progressed. Lately, however, there has been a resurgence of vegetarianism as a way of life for many reasons, some of which we will address on this page.
There is an abundance of scientific research that promotes the health benefits of a plant-based diet, but some people avoid meat for other reasons, like religion, animal rights or weight loss.
As previously mentioned, the Vedic scriptures have been around for a long time. In fact, in Hinduism, the Vedas are believed to have been “directly revealed”, and later written down in the ancient Sanskrit language. All of the information contained within is believed to be the purest instructions on how to live life. Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism are based on the principles of nature, and advocate the notion that eating the flesh of another living creature is akin to eating your own kind. Killing another living being, whether animal or human, brings about bad karma – the ill effects of treating something else badly. Avoiding meat and eating the natural bounty of the earth brings about health of the body, mind and spirit.
Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism do not condone inflicting pain on animals for personal gain. Buddhism teaches that eating meat “extinguishes the seed of great compassion,” meaning if you kill an animal for food, what is to stop you from turning on your fellow man? Judaism, upon which Christianity is based, says vegetarianism is an ideal to strive for and prohibits cruelty to animals; the earth and its environment must be treated respectfully at all times. These beliefs are not only compassionate and cleansing for the spirit, but also help promote a healthy lifestyle.
Every year, more than 25 billion (10 billion in the US) animals are slaughtered for worldwide consumption, and a majority of those have been mistreated in the process. Factory farming – where animals are often crammed into small cages and pumped full of chemicals and hormones until slaughter – has overtaken organic farming as the main source of animal production for food. These animals are not protected under current cruelty laws. In the United States, most every state has a law that exempts farm animals from being allowed humane treatment.
This is called high-pressure agriculture and it keeps animals like chickens, pigs, cows and turkeys in crates or pens that often don’t allow them any space for movement their entire lives. They are often deprived of sunlight, exercise, fresh air and veterinary care, and stay stressed as long as they are alive. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is often found in processed meat from factory farms and can impact the health of the humans who consume it. According to the Farm Animal Reform Movement, if every meat-eating American switched to a vegetarian diet, each person could save on average 90 animals per year from such inhumane treatment and suffering. See Treatment of Animals for more information.
Health and Weight Loss
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and kills over one million people each year. A diet high in fat, cholesterol and sugar, coupled with lack of exercise, is often the culprit. Consuming vegetables, nuts, fruit and plant-based proteins, and abstaining from meat leads to lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol and more fibre, all of which lead to an overall healthy body. A vegetarian diet may also reduce the risk for certain diseases like obesity, diabetes and certain types of cancer, such as breast, stomach and lung, as well as colon cancer due to a diet high in fibre.
Choosing a vegetarian lifestyle by eliminating most processed foods, saturated fats and simple carbohydrates naturally leads to weight loss. A staggering 64% of American adults are overweight and susceptible to weight-related conditions like heart attacks and strokes. In a study conducted from 1986 to 1992 by Dean Ornish, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, it was discovered that overweight people who enjoyed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year of the study and managed to keep the weight off even five years later, when the study ended. This was accomplished in a simple manner – no counting calories or measuring portions.
Switching from the standard American diet to vegetarianism can also significantly increase your lifespan, adding an average of 13 years to your life according to Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The Real Age Die: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat. Your arteries will no longer be clogged with animal fat, lessening the risk of heart disease, and you will experience more energy and a stronger immune system. A plant-based diet is naturally good for you, meaning you are how you eat – healthy!
How you arrive at the decision to switch to a vegetarian lifestyle is an individual one. It may be a combination of several different reasons. You may initially want to lose some weight and feel healthier, or it could be that you feel strongly about the issue of animal abuse and mistreatment. Studying other religions might help you realize that your spiritual health is just as important as your physical health. No matter what your reason to become a vegetarian, there is a wealth of knowledge to help you on your journey to a better, healthier lifestyle.
Steps to Becoming a Vegetarian
If you have eaten meat most of your life, going green might not be an easy or natural transition. Our bodies become accustomed to the proteins and chemicals in processed meat, and suddenly going without it can trigger symptoms of withdrawal, similar to quitting smoking or coffee. What has become normal for your body is no longer feeding those cravings, and ridding yourself of the toxic build-up is the first step to a vegetarian lifestyle. After you have made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet, having the willpower and support to continue will be up to you – check out Transition of Diet for suggested detailed instructions on how to succeed in your new lifestyle.