The word “vegan” often sounds extreme or very restrictive, especially if you’re used to consuming a lot of meat and dairy. But you don’t need to go entirely vegan to start incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet.
Every time you choose to eliminate meat, dairy, or eggs from a meal and substitute in a plant-based option, you make a big difference. You’ll benefit your body, the environment, and the welfare of animals simply by making little swaps here and there. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Here are ten reasons that you should start eating more plant-based food:
1. Conserve water
Water is a limited resource on this planet and one that we all require for survival. As you can imagine, a cow needs a lot more water to drink each day than we do. Not to mention the water used to grow their food. The animal agriculture industry uses about 30% of the world’s fresh water supply. Each pound of beef takes 1800 gallons of water to produce! The average person drinks around 1 gallon of water per day, meaning that the same amount of water could provide almost five years’ worth of drinking water.
2. Reduce your risk for heart disease
Heart disease kills more Americans than any other disease. While many factors put you at risk for heart disease, such as family history, eating more plant-based foods can help you reduce that. According to Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, a vegan diet may actually reverse heart disease, and those who eat a vegetarian diet have a 40% lower risk of developing it.
3. Healthy protein
There is a common misconception that you need to eat meat to consume the nine amino acids that our bodies need. That is far from the case. Choosing plant-based proteins instead of meat or dairy will help you get those essential aminos without high cholesterol and bad fats.
Some of the best sources of plant-based complete proteins include:
- Chia seeds
- Maca powder
On top of that, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all very high in healthy protein, so you can build muscle without eating steak or raw eggs.
4. Fight climate change
The impacts of climate change are becoming more visible than ever, and by choosing plant-based options, you can help reduce your impact on the environment. The animal agriculture industry makes up 80% of total agricultural emissions and 14.5% of total C02 emissions worldwide. On top of that, 65% of nitrous oxide emissions (296% stronger than C02) are due to the livestock industry.
The Amazon rainforest is vital for processing all that C02, but unfortunately, it too has been impacted. The mass deforestation of the Amazon is a direct result of the animal agriculture industry.
The difference? The average American diet produces around 1,984 pounds of CO2 annually. By substituting beef with plant-based options, you could reduce that to just 75 pounds!
If for nothing else, eat more plant-based food out of compassion. Many people who choose to eliminate meat, dairy, and eggs do so for ethical reasons. Ethics go further than just the killing of animals. 95% of Americans’ livestock are in factory farms, not outside in lush fields, grazing and enjoying their days. They are kept in awful conditions and treated as products, not creatures. Choosing plant-based meat alternatives reduces support for the mistreatment of animals.
6. Prevent diabetes
Substituting meat and dairy for plant-based alternatives may help to prevent diabetes. Or, if you have Type 2 diabetes, it can help control blood sugar levels. Many people with diabetes have reduced their medication intake, with some able to come off it completely, thanks to switching to a plant-based diet.
7. Decrease pain associated with arthritis
The cytokine protein promotes inflammation in the body, and inflammation is no fun, especially if you have arthritis. The more your body produces cytokines, the more pain you’ll experience on those arthritic joints. You can slow down this production process by eating plant-based foods instead of animal proteins.
8. Good for your wallet
That new vegan café that opened up around the street might be charging $20 a sandwich, but that doesn’t mean that all plant-based foods are expensive—quite the opposite. Meat is not cheap, and choosing plant-based alternatives can actually save you money. Some of the best swaps like lentils, beans, tofu, mushrooms, and nuts are inexpensive and still provide you with tons of nutrients.
Adding more plant-based foods to your diet can support weight loss, and once-off, it can help you keep it off. Plant-based foods are often very fiber-dense, which means that you’ll feel fuller without eating as much. Meat and dairy are also very high in calories, so you can hugely cut your calorie intake by making substitutions. When comparing those who consume a low-fat vegan diet vs. an omnivore diet, at least 19 studies in PubMed reported a reduction in weight on a vegan diet.
10. Reduce your risk of cancer
Plant-based diets can help to boost your immune system, which is credited for also lowering your risk of developing cancer. A study of colorectal cancer saw a 22% reduced risk in those that ate a vegetarian diet compared to one including meat.
Incorporating plant-based options into your diet
If you’ve found this article, it’s because you are curious about plant-based eating. Whether you’re concerned about your environmental footprint or just want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, eating more plant-based foods has tons of great benefits. Looking at pros and cons, there is no con to substituting plant-based options for meat and dairy. And with so many fantastic plant-based alternatives available, you don’t need to miss out on your favorite meaty dishes.
Start small and try some plant-based jerky for an after-work snack or try using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock in your soup. Soon, it will become a regular part of your day-to-day life.