This article was inspired by Michelle McMacken‘s article “7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating meat.” An MD, board-certified internal medicine physician and an assistant professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, she says the “protein found in whole plant foods protects us from many chronic diseases.” We’ve expanded the information she provides in this article and offer a different take on some points.
It’s well established in scientific literature that a meat-free diet, when done correctly, offers tremendous health benefits. The notion that meat is necessary for human health is a myth that continues to pervade popular culture, but public perception is slowly shifting, and new research is showing that even our ancestors did not exclusively (or even predominantly) eat meat. While we don’t mean to say that eating any meat is unhealthy, we do wish to call attention to the growing body of research making clear that vegan and vegetarian diets are optimal for good health.
Katherine Milton, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, explains why the ‘paleo’ argument is flawed in the following statement:
[I]t is difficult to comment on ‘the best diet’ for modern humans because there have been and are so many different yet successful diets in our species. . . . [B]ecause some hunter-gatherer societies obtained most of their dietary energy from wild animal fat and protein does not imply that this is the ideal diet for modern humans, nor does it imply that modern humans have genetic adaptations to such diets.
To learn more about the paleo diet confusion and see examples and studies, you can refer to this article we published in 2015.
According to Harvard Medical School, “studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.”
Even the American Dietetic Association has weighed in with a position paper, concluding that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
These diseases include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what can happen when you stop eating meat.
1. You’ll Help Protect the Environment
Eating meat is not like it used to be. Today, we raise and kill billions of animals every single year to feed our ever-increasing demand for meat — a demand that far outstrips our need. What’s worse, these animals we raise to be slaughtered are confined, tortured, and subjected to all manner of horrific treatment along the way. The cruelty alone is enough to discourage someone from eating meat, or at least encourage them to reduce their consumption. Although this article is mainly about health, this ethical issue can’t be ignored.
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While we slaughter these animals, we also wreak havoc on the environment, as the video below illustrates. Called “feed lots,” though officially referred to as “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFO) and more commonly known as factory farms, they house thousands of animals in horrid conditions that breed disease and cause massive environmental degradation. Despite this fact, they remain a non-issue to several major organizations whose job it is to raise awareness on the various issues contributing to our planet’s destruction.
According to FarmForward, a nonprofit advocacy group, 99% of farmed animals in the U.S. are raised on feedlots. We are talking about billions of animals raised for slaughter every year, and that is in the U.S. alone. Globally, more than 70 billion of these animals are raised for slaughter every single year.
Did you know that the leading cause of rainforest destruction is our own food supply? We tear them down to make room for food crops and livestock grazing, and are doing so at an approximate rate of an entire football field’s worth of forest every single second. Every day, close to 100 plant/animal/insect species are lost because of this practice. You can read more about this here.
Water waste is another major issue here. About 2,000 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef in the U.S. The fish supply in our oceans is rapidly becoming depleted; by some estimates, oceans may be fishless by 2048. The current food system, based on meat and dairy production, also contributes to world hunger, as many crops grown worldwide go toward feeding livestock, not feeding people.
2. You’ll Greatly Reduce Your Chances of Developing Type 2 Diabetes
In America alone, approximately 40% of the population is pre-diabetic. This translates to millions of people. Multiple studies have shown that red and processed meats (also recently linked to cancer by the WHO), as well as animal protein in general, increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In omnivore populations, the risk of diabetes is doubled compared with vegans. Another study found that eating meat once a week or more over a 17-year period increased the risk of diabetes by a startling 74%. A follow up study was conducted and found that increasing red meat intake by more than just half a serving per day was closely associated with an almost 50% increased risk of contracting diabetes over four years.
3. You Will Get the Right Type, and the Right Amount of Protein
While underconsumption of protein is harmful to the body, overconsumption comes with risks as well. In the United States, the average omnivore gets more than 1.5 times the optimal amount of protein, and most of that protein is from animal sources. This is bad news, because excess protein is often stored as fat. This stored animal protein contributes to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, and cancer.
On the other hand, the protein contained in whole plant foods is connected to disease prevention. According to Michelle McMacken:
[T]he protein found in whole plant foods protects us from many chronic diseases. There is no need to track protein intake or use protein supplements with plant-based diets; if you are meeting your daily calorie needs, you will get plenty of protein. The longest-lived people on Earth, those living in the “Blue Zones,” get about 10% of their calories from protein, compared with the U.S. average of 15-20%.
Multiple studies have shown the difference between animal protein and plant protein. Another great example comes from Colin Campbell, a professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University whose experiments on laboratory rats showed cancer cell growth can be turned on or off by simply varying the amount of animal protein included in their diet. This was an enormous discovery, with implications for the diets of millions of people, and his results, from what’s known as the “China Study,” have proven replicable.
Below is a video of him discussing his experiments.
4. You’ll Be Living a More Compassionate Lifestyle
As mentioned above, billions of animals are raised for slaughter every year just in the U.S. Animals are sentient beings who suffer and experience a wide array of emotions. They even suffer in farms that we currently label as “humane.” By giving up, or even cutting down on meat, you are helping to stop animals from enduring horrific experiences. If you do eat meat, perhaps you could make better choices or consume animals who have died from natural causes at the end of their life. One thing is for certain: Eating meat ethically requires serious effort and care. As consumers, we’ve become so complacent and lazy, and the food industry wants to keep us this way.
5. You’ll Reduce Inflammation in Your Body
Many people eat processed foods regularly despite their being known to cause cancer. Eating meat specifically increases your chances of having elevated levels of inflammation in your body, which can lead to a number of short-term and long-term health consequences.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, among other problems.
Plant-based diets, on the other hand, are naturally anti-inflammatory. This is because they offer lower inflammatory triggers (versus the saturated fat, endotoxins, and other toxins released from bacteria found in animal foods). Multiple studies have shown that those who switch to a plant-based diet can dramatically lower their level of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation in the body.
6. You Will Lower Your Blood Cholesterol
Another big risk factor for heart problems is high blood cholesterol. Saturated fat, primarily found in meat, cheese, poultry, and various other animal products, dramatically influences our blood cholesterol levels.
Yet when people switch to plant-based diets, their blood cholesterol drops significantly, as several studies have shown. More surprising still, this decrease matches what is seen with pharmaceutical drugs — but that’s a business unconcerned with healing, since if a natural substance shows huge potential for healing but can’t be patented, it won’t be pursued.
It’s a fact that those who require cardiovascular drugs can lower their risks by adopting a plant-based diet.
“Whole-food, plant-based diets reduce blood cholesterol because they tend to be very low in saturated fat and they contain zero cholesterol. Moreover, plant-based diets are high in fibre, which further reduces blood cholesterol levels. Soy has also been shown to play a role in lowering cholesterol, for those who choose to include it.”
— Michelle McMacken, MD
7. You’ll Give Your Gut a Makeover
Gut health is extremely important to your overall health. In fact, it could be the most important, as all health starts in your gut. If you have an unhealthy gut, you will have an unhealthy body with a variety of potential problems.
One aspect of the gut is what’s known as the “microbiome,” comprised of the trillions of microorganisms that live inside of our bodies. Vital to our overall health, the microbiome produces critical nutrients, keeps our gut tissues healthy, protects us from cancer, turns genes on and off, and more. Studies have also shown that they play an important role in various other diseases, from liver and bowel diseases to diabetes and several autoimmune disorders.
Where do plant foods come in? Well, studies have confirmed that plant foods help shape a healthy intestinal microbiome. This is just another reason (out of many) why scientists and health professionals are becoming big advocates of plant-based diets. The fibre found in plant foods helps promote the good bacteria that’s needed in our guts. Dairy, eggs, and meat, on the other hand, help foster the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
“Landmark studies have shown that when omnivores eat choline or carnitine (found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy), gut bacteria make a substance that is converted by our liver to a toxic product called TMAO. TMAO leads to worsening cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels and escalates the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Interestingly, people eating plant-based diets make little or no TMAO after a meat-containing meal, because they have a totally different gut microbiome. It takes only a few days for our gut bacterial patterns to change – the benefits of a plant-based diet start quickly!”
– Michelle McMacken, MD
8. You’ll Live Longer
Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences at USC, has discovered that through fasting (if done correctly), the body produces less 1GF1 (growth hormone factor), and, as a result, cells start repairing themselves instead of dividing. His research has shown that fasting actually regenerates stem cells, kills cancer cells, and prolongs life. Fasting also leads to decreases in insulin and glucose and an increase in ketone bodies and IGFBP1.
Last year, a press release from USC emphasized how fasting, in combination with chemotherapy, has already been shown to kill cancer cells. They also presented two new studies in mice suggesting that a less-toxic class of drugs combined with fasting could kill breast, colorectal, and lung cancer cells.
Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, and one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, makes this quite plain in his TEDx talk on the subject. He says, “Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.”
The main relation to plant-based diets here is that in order to maintain the benefits of fasting, it must be done regularly — possibly one or twice per month — one must engage in what’s known as “intermittent fasting.” And a predominately plant-based diet is recommended to compliment such fasting. According to Longo, “a plant-based diet is by far the best for longevity and disease prevention.”
Dr. Longo is a great place to start if you’re interested in fasting. Fasting can have a wide array of health benefits, but it can also be detrimental to someone who has no idea what they are doing, so please do your research if this is something you are considering.
Below is a video clip of Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, a 100-year-old recently retired heart surgeon who has been a vegan for half of his life. He shares why he made this choice.
9. You’ll Change How Your Genes Work
It wasn’t long ago that scientists figured out that environmental factors can turn genes off and on. Studies have shown that a plant-based diet can decrease the expression of cancer genes in men with low-risk prostate cancer. Plant-based diets have also been known to lengthen our telomeres, which are caps at the end of DNA chromosomes that assist us in keeping our DNA healthy. This suggests that we’ll actually age more slowly, thus reducing our chances of contracting an age-related disease.
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