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Advantages of a Vegetarian Diet
Five good reasons for reducing or eliminating meat from your diet.
1. Vegetarians are less likely to be obese. Obesity increases cholesterol, raises blood
pressure, causes glucose intolerance and increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some
cancers including colon cancer.
 Prevalence of obesity in US:
Mean BMI:
o 68% over age 20 are overweight
23.6 vegans
o 34% over age 20 are obese
25.7 - lacto/ovo veg.
o 10.4% of children age 2-5 are obese
26.3 - pesco veg.
o 19.6% of children age 6-11 are obese
27.3 - semi veg.
o 18.1% of children age 12-19 are obese
28.8 - non veg.
 in the 1970’s these numbers were 5% for age 2-5, 6.5% for age 6-11, and 5% for
age 12-19. BMI is as measure of weight for height. BMI increases with increased
meat eating. Normal is 19-24.9, overweight is 25-29.9 and obese is over 30. Study
in AJCN 2005: 81:1267-74 looked at 50,000 women and found that 40% of
omnivores vs. 25-29% of vegetarians or vegans were overweight or obese.
 See to determine your body mass index (BMI) – in a
section call “Assess your weight”, click on BMI – there is both an adult and
child/teen BMI calculator
2. Vegetarians have less high blood pressure. Meat eaters have a 2 times higher incidence of
high blood pressure than vegetarians. The main diet-related causes of high blood pressure
are obesity, high alcohol intake, high sodium intake and low potassium intake. Increasing
dietary intake of fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, as does weight loss and
regular aerobic exercise. In some people decreasing salt intake also helps decrease blood
pressure. Not everyone is “salt-sensitive” but the average American salt intake is around
3400 mg/day with those between 12-40 getting closer to 4500 mg. Goal is 1500 mg or less.
3. Vegetarians have less Type 2 Diabetes
 Incidence:
o From Diabetes Care 2009(May) 32(5) 791-6
o 2.9% vegans
o 4.8% semi-vegetarians
o 3.2% lacto/ovo-vegetarians
o 7.6% non-vegetarians
o 4.8% pesco-vegetarians
Diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and
amputations. Meat eaters are 2 times more likely to have diabetes than vegetarians. Dietary
recommendations for preventing diabetes:
 If overweight, lose weight by reducing calorie intake and exercising more
 Avoid saturated fat – meats, poultry, whole fat dairy products (butter, whole milk,
cheese, ice cream…), pastries, and convenience foods
Choose more monounsaturated fats (olives, avocados, nuts) and omega-3 fats (flax
Eat more plant foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts – these
foods are naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber and nutrients. Arch.Int.
Med.:2008:168:1493-9 prospective cohort study with 12 year follow up found those
with the highest fruit and vegetable intake had the lowest diabetic risk.
Use soy foods as some of your protein choices (in place of animal proteins)
4. Vegetarians have less heart disease. Vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than meat
eaters. The food most consistently associated with a lower risk of heart disease is nuts.
Another food that protects against heart disease is whole grain bread. Words like
multigrain, natural… don’t mean anything – make sure the first ingredient is “whole”
followed by some kind of grain. AmJCardiol 2009:Oct1;104(7)947:56 Review of 27
randomized controlled and observational trials found total vegetarian diet lowered LDL
cholesterol by up to 35%
5. Vegetarians have less of some types of cancer. Eating more legumes (beans and peas)
protects against cancer of the colon, stomach, and pancreas and eating more fruit decreases
the risk of lung and stomach cancer. In contrast eating meat increases the risk of colon and
bladder cancer. Increasing vegetable intake protects against colon cancer. Lifestyle factors
to reduce risk for intestinal cancers (esophageal, stomach, and colon)
 Don’t smoke
 Avoid alcohol
 Limit smoked, salted, and pickled foods
 Exercise regularly
 Maintain an ideal weight
 Seek doctor’s treatment for chronic acid reflux
 Eat a well balanced diet based on unrefined plant foods, especially rich in fruits and
 Make sure you get enough vitamin C (stimulates immune system) and beta carotene
(fruits and vegetables), and folate (legumes and leafy greens)
o What about supplements? Specific nutrients (or non nutrients like
antioxidants or phytochemicals) in foods protect against cancer (and other
diseases) but not without the food. Plant foods contain a variety of
nutrients and non nutrients that work together to bring good health. Can’t
duplicate that with supplements
What is it about a vegetarian diet that is so helpful?
Vegetarians eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds than non
vegetarians. Let’s look more closely at what is in these foods.
1. Vegetarians eat 2 to 3 times as much fiber as meat eaters. This helps reduce cholesterol and
controls blood sugar levels. Populations with high intakes of fiber have lower colon cancer
rates. Average fiber intake among Americans is only about 15 g/day. Recommended goal
is at least 25-35g/day (depending on how many calories a person eats. Where is this fiber
found? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. 80 % of the fiber in whole
grains is found in the bran and germ, which are both removed in processing to white flour.
People who choose whole grain bread have a lower risk of heart disease than those who
choose white bread. [AJCN 2007:86:472-9 Risk of high blood pressure was 11% lower in
those who ate the most whole grains.] Fiber by itself (either as bran or as a supplement) is
not as effective as eating the whole grain. Another benefit of a high fiber diet is that it is
more filling, less likely to lead to overeating.
2. Vegetarians eat more antioxidants. Normal body processes produce reactive oxygen
compounds (free radicals) that can harm cells. Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative
damage thought to be involved in causing cancer, heart disease, aging and other diseases.
Some antioxidants are vitamins (such as beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E).
Vegetarians eat 50% more vitamin C and 2 times as much vitamin E and beta carotene as
Where are antioxidants found? Plant foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains,
legumes and nuts
What about supplements? So far no beneficial effects from taking antioxidant
supplements have been found. Why is this?
 Antioxidants in foods are far more complex than those in vitamin pills. For example
there are over 500 different carotenoids found in foods; beta carotene (frequently
taken as a supplement) is only one of them
 Various compounds in foods (fiber, antioxidants, vitamins minerals
phytochemicals…), including the antioxidants act together in some way that is
protective. I like to call this “God’s packaging” - He knows what we need and has
created plant foods to meet those needs.
3. Vegetarians eat more phytochemicals, “plant chemicals” found in plant foods.
Pytochemicals are like the immune system for the plant – help protect it against insect
damage, wind/weather… and we get that protection as well when we eat the plant foods.
Consumption of phytochemicals helps protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke, and
other chronic diseases. Where are phytochemicals found? Fruits, vegetables, legumes,
whole grains, nuts and seeds.
4. Vegetarians eat more nuts. Nuts are the food that lowers the risk of heart disease the most.
People who eat nuts 1 to 4 times/week have 25% less risk of developing heart disease,
while those who eat nuts 5 or more times/week have up to a 50 % lower risk of developing
heart disease as those who eat nuts less than once a week. All nuts provide this benefit –
even peanuts (which are really a legume but have a similar composition to the tree nuts).
Raw, roasted, salted or not all are beneficial. However it is easier to eat too many of the
roasted and salted ones.
5. Vegetarians have a higher folate (a B vitamin) intake. Adequate folate is linked to a lower
risk of heart disease, colon cancer and a decrease in neural tube birth defects. Folate is
found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and citrus fruits.
Vegetarians typically eat 25 % more folate than non-vegetarians. Folate is found naturally
in foods, folic acid is the man made supplement form. AJCN 2007;86:434-43 found
highest folate levels were associated with the lowest incidence of post menopausal breast
cancer. However high folate levels after supplementing with folic acid actually increased
the risk of some cancers (prostate). Again God’s packaging is best, He knows what our
bodies need (Creator) and provides for that in plant foods (not individual nutrients as
6. Vegetarians usually (not always if they eat a lot of cheese, ice cream, whole milk and
cream) eat less saturated fat, which is found primarily in meat and full-fat dairy foods.
Saturated fat is strongly linked to high cholesterol levels (the more saturated fat in the diet
the higher the cholesterol levels). It raises the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and some
7. Vegetarians eat less cholesterol. Plant foods contain no cholesterol. It is found only in
animal foods. Eating foods high in cholesterol will raise blood cholesterol levels, although
not as much as eating foods high in saturated fat.
8. Vegetarians do not eat meat, which is high in total fat and saturated fat. Red meat can
form cancer causing compounds when cooked at high temperatures. Red meat may also
promote the growth of bacteria that leads to weakening of the wall of the colon. This
increases the risk of developing diverticulosis. The main focus of this class is on the many
benefits of unrefined plant foods – rather than the risks associated with meat eating. We
will look at ways to include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts in what
we eat.
Note: We don’t recommend supplements for healthy people since God provides all the nutrients we
need in our foods, however some people may need supplements for various medical conditions
that may cause malabsorption (or for other reasons), so we don’t want to come off as dogmatic
– again stress the positive rather than the negative and don’t be extreme in your presentation.