October is National Vegetarian Month, but even if you’re a die-hard meat eater, there are plenty of ways for you to celebrate. And celebrate you should, since vegetarian diets are associated with a multitude of health benefits. You may not be ready to give up meat, but you can make some changes to your diet to include more plant-based meals and cut back on your meat consumption.
Don’t be afraid to revamp a few family favorite dishes into meatless versions. Just make flavorful substitutions that everyone will probably enjoy, or at least be willing to try. Swap out the meat sauce in your lasagna for one that includes vegetables such as onions, zucchini, and red peppers. Skip the high-fat hamburgers in favor of tasty veggie burgers. And put hearty vegetables such as eggplant to use as the main ingredient in dishes like stews and curries or try grilled Portobello mushrooms rather than chicken or beef.
Once you get more comfortable cooking meatless, you can expand your horizons with new recipes found in the many vegetarian cookbooks available or on the Internet. You can start with one meal a week and increase your vegetarian dining as much as you’d like from there. Or join the Meatless Mondays movement, which was founded in 2003 to raise awareness of the benefits to individual health and to the planet from eating less meat.
Consuming a vegetarian diet has been linked with many health advantages. A few major ones include:
Even a diet consisting of only plant-based foods still depends on your making nutritious choices. If you regularly eat a good variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, that will provide you with important fiber and antioxidants that are known to help prevent cancer. In fact, a 2009 study at the University of Oxford in England showed that vegetarians get significantly fewer cancers overall than their meat-eating peers.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease
There is debate as to whether saturated fats found in animal products can contribute to the clogging of arteries and the development of cardiovascular disease over time. But as Jon Barron says: moderation in all things dietary is a healthy choice. Therefore, a diet that contains fewer of these fats will certainly do your heart no harm. As stated, there is much debate on this issue and studies that point in both directions. But a 2018 study at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. found that sticking to a vegetarian diet reduced the risk of heart disease by a whopping 40 percent.
A nutritious vegetarian diet that is high in fiber can help reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes or even reversing the disease at an early stage. That is because diets based on a greater intake of complex carbohydrates can promote a more effective use of insulin by the body.
If you are interested in adopting a vegetarian lifestyle there are several options, allowing you to choose the one that appeals most to you. Vegans adhere to the purest form of vegetarianism, and refrain from eating meat, poultry, fish, and any product that comes from an animal, such as eggs or dairy items. Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, and fish, but consume both eggs and dairy products. And partial or semi-vegetarians do not eat meat but may include poultry (pollo vegetarians) or fish (pescetarians). All of these versions have health advantages, and notably, the pescetarian diet was shown in a 2015 study at Loma Linda University in California to greatly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
You may be concerned about missing out on some important nutrients as a vegetarian, but you can lay your fears to rest. If you plan your meals well—the same as you would as a meat-eater—you will have little trouble getting most everything your body needs to thrive. For example, your protein needs can be met through a variety of plant sources, including beans, lentils, peas, seeds, and nuts. Vitamin B12 is found in dairy products and eggs, so lacto-ovo vegetarians are covered, but if you are a vegan, you may want to take a supplement. And omega-3 fatty acids, if not coming from fish or eggs, can be obtained by eating foods such as Brussels sprouts, chia seeds, and walnuts.