Cutting out meat from your diet can be tricky, but it may yield great results for your physique that make the effort worthwhile. Not only is it more environmentally friendly to skip these animal proteins, but it can reduce your risk factor for certain diseases, have positive effects on your appearance, and potentially increase your lifespan. There are also drawbacks that may require preventative measures on the new vegetarian’s part, so here’s a breakdown of what will happen to your body, inside and out, if and when you decide to declare yourself a herbivore.
You might lose some weight
Switching to a veggie-centric diet may be good news for your waistline. According to research by Dr. Neal Barnard at George Washington University, the average person who turned to a plant-based diet under their project supervision lost about 10 pounds in the span of about 44 weeks. “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,” the physician reported.
The downside? A lot of new vegetarians report experiencing some temporary bloating when making the big change to a meatless lifestyle, especially if the new diet includes an increase in carbohydrates like beans.
Your skin might improve
The vitamins in fruits and vegetables (including our friends A, C, and E) are known to combat free radicals, which are common causes of skin blemishes. Some foods that have been shown to have high levels of antioxidant activity include berries, cherries, citrus, prunes, and olives.
You’ll be less likely to get cancer
According to research, at least 30% of cancer cases have been linked to dietary habits, and in a patient study, it was shown that vegetarianism of the milk- and egg-eating variety tended to have a lower risk of contracting cancers than those who ate meat. Vegetarians tend to have a reduced rate of various types of cancer, including that of the colon (since the added fiber helps move carcinogens through the digestive tract more quickly), stomach, bladder, ovaries, breast, and lymphatic and hematopoietic tissues (due to the antioxidants contained in plant-based foods).
You’ll be less likely to get chronic illnesses
Vegetarianism has also proven to be a heart-healthy approach to nommage. Researchers have found that those who choose the eliminate meats from their diets enjoyed a significant drop in cholesterol levels (up to 35% for those who subbed in other proteins, like soy or nuts), which, in turn, reduced their risk for cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and strokes.
Not only that, but it’s also been linked to a reduction in blood pressure levels (hypertension), obesity, inflammation and Type 2 Diabetes. Chronic inflammation is associated with a ton of long-term issues, including arthritis, cancer, heart disease, asthma, and other degenerative disorders, and vegetarian-friendly foods like kale, cauliflower, spinach, and certain fruits, among others, are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, while meat tends to cause an inflammatory reaction.
Tummy troubles? No more!
Several academic studies have shown that there are positive microbial effects associated with ditching the consumption of animal by-products, including a reduction of harmful pathogens and an increase in protective microorganisms. This may be connected to the reduction in inflammation that’s been associated with vegetarianism, which has other major health benefits (we’ll get to that).
Other digestive benefits to vegetarianism include the fact that studies show a reduction in risk for diverticular disease – that is, a buildup of pockets or sacs in the walls of your colon – associated with the diet, and the increased fibers that’ll come with that extra helping of vegetables will help make your bathroom habits more regular. Experts caution that these benefits are only available to those who engaged in a “well-planned vegetarian diet,” which incorporates a high intake of fruits and vegetables. If approached correctly, your tummy will likely thank you for resisting the carnivorous route to sustenance.
It’s not all good news: You may need to supplement
A vegetarian diet may require the use of certain supplements, or at least carefully crafted meals, which can ensure the requisite amounts of nutrients that might be lost in transition. One common problem people have when flushing out the flesh foods is a zinc deficiency, since that vitamin is most often found in red meat and shellfish. Plus, vegetarian foods are high in phytic acid which interferes with zinc absorption. The effects of that deficiency may include a weakened immune system, loss of memory, eyesight and tastebuds, an onset of diarrhea, allergic reactions, hair loss, and rashes. The good news is there’s a relatively simple fix for that: foods like mushrooms, spinach, cashews, chickpeas and cocoa powder are all great sources of zinc, so bring ’em into the routine, and make up the difference.
Other essential vitamins that may become depleted in the process of becoming a meat-free eater include B12, calcium, iron. For those that are careful with their menus, however, this can be addressed without the use of vitamin supplements. Vitamin B12 is found in yeast and certain cereals, while calcium can be derived from foods like almonds, bread, milk, and sesame seeds. Nuts, dried fruit, beans, and broccoli are all high in iron and would be assets to a vegetarian’s diet.
Vegetarians should also make sure that they’re incorporating enough protein into their daily meals, which can be accomplished by eating eggs, cheeses, lentils, black beans, and tofu.
You might develop anxiety or depression
Studies are mixed on whether a vegetarian diet will improve or impair your mental wellbeing. Some doctors have found an increase in lethargy, anxiety, and depression associated with patients who adopted the lifestyle, while others have found that non meat-eaters have no worsening of mood conditions. Psychologists suggest a supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 to counter any potential ill effects of going meat-free on mental health (supplementation is particularly important for vegans). Vegetarians who would rather not take supplement pills can find Omega-3s in salmon (if you eat fish, practically any fish will do), walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed and egg yolks.
Whatever you do, be smart about it
Becoming a vegetarian can be extremely gratifying – and not just because you’re reducing your carbon footprint. It also has proven health benefits that include certain disease prevention and digestive health increases. However, it requires some attentive planning on the meal front to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients your body needs. The best way to avoid the unpleasant effects of nutritional depletion is by formulating a solid plan for your daily diet. Make sure that you consider which nutritional elements you’ll lose from excluding meat and adjust your food intake accordingly – this is the best way to ensure that your body reaps all the potential rewards from increasing your intake of plant-based goods.