Vegetarianism is a term that we are very familiar with in modern society, but how long has it been around for? And are experts able to confidently prove that it has positive effects on our bodies? Are there really benefits to our bodies if we avoid dairy products, meat and fish? Can we really get all our vitamins, nutrients and plant protein from a vegetarian diet?
If you are interested in the history of the vegetarian movement, take a look at this related blog: The History Of Vegetarianism.
Below, I will uncover the health benefits that are said to come from becoming a vegetarian.
If you are familiar with the long-standing history of vegetarianism, or if you have been told war stories from your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents, then you may already know that, for a long time, Britons had to live on eating plant-based foods from cans or dug from the ground.
During the war, people had to eat food they had dug up. Photo credit: Dark Dwarf on Visual Hunt
Whilst famine and disease prevailed during World War II, meat became a luxury for the rich and so, for many years, we ate nothing but food that was grown in the ground.
This just goes to show that a vegetarian lifestyle really is nutritious enough to keep us going. Not only that, it fed the mouths of a nation going through some of the toughest physical and psychological conditions known to man – which indicates that it also gave them the strength they needed to get out of their living nightmare.
This begs the question, therefore, why are so many of us still eating meat almost every day of the week?
It is encouraging to see the recent rise in allotments or vegetable gardens.
With gardens now being quite a statement for many homeowners, the idea of being self-sufficient also appeals to the masses. This is why we see so many people on televised gardening shows longing for raised beds so that they can grow herbs and vegetables to use in their cooking.
I think that, ironically, the psychology that meat was once a food that only the rich could afford to buy has led to us eating more meat than we need to (because, as we know, a meat-free diet does offer the body what it needs). This is no doubt because we want to live in the best way possible and treat ourselves to nice things. Now that meat has been made affordable to all, we just can’t help ourselves and continue to buy it because everyone around us is.
Imagine a world where 90% of the population was completely meat-free, how would you feel being one of the minority going into the shop to buy your steak with everyone’s eyes on you? This doesn’t mean to say that vegetarians look down upon meat-eaters, still they don’t agree with their carnivorous eating habits.
That said, I strongly believe that meat-eaters do not eat flesh from animals because they see the creatures as a lower class of species to them. There is no spitefulness to the act of meat eating. I think that those who adopt a traditional western diet simply don’t think about the food they are eating in any depth, other than to consider which flavour combinations go well. Or perhaps it is that they don’t want to think about it…
Most meat-eaters don’t tend to think about how the animal meets its end. Photo credit: Visual Hunt
Most people, especially animal lovers, will agree entirely that there should be rules against cruelty to animals yet they will continue to eat from them because that is what they are used to.
If you are brought up in a household that eats meat day in, day out, it can be quite a daunting idea to cut it out from your diet entirely.
There are many scientific health benefits to adopting a vegetarian diet, which I will go on to list below, but one of the main and perhaps most important is purely the good it has on the soul.
By not playing a part in the slaughter of animals, whether brutal or sensitive, our conscience can remain clear and we can feel like we are doing our bit to contribute to saving animals’ lives.
If a guilt-free life isn’t enough to sway you, then here are some facts on how a meat-free diet can benefit you physically, too.
Eating food that is naturally low in saturated fat has been proven to protect our bodies from debilitating or worse, terminal, illnesses and diseases such as heart disease, gall stones, hypertension, coronary heart attack and some diet-related cancers.
Just as you’d expect, this low-fat diet also helps to keep our bodies in shape, resulting in a leaner and more toned figure. The cause of this is fewer calories entering our stomach, coming from power foods like grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, providing a good source of fibre and calcium in place of heavy proteins and carbohydrates (did you know that a fibre-rich meal keeps you feeling fuller for longer?).
What people may not realise, however, is that it is not only the muscles and bones that benefit from vegetarianism. Experts say that vegetarian living often results in better vision and less skin degeneration – which effectively means that by going vegetarian, you could be winding back the years!
Of course, there is one other very important part of the body that benefits: the brain. Balanced eating, a healthy body and feeling good in oneself are very important factors in supporting the health of your brain.
With so many great effects on the body and mind, it is no wonder that athletes often choose to adopt a strict vegetarian diet, either permanently or to get them for before a game, race, match or other competition.
If you are looking to become a vegetarian to better yourself and lose weight for your own self-confidence, then you might be interested to know that Slimming World offer vegetarian meal plans as well, which can be followed any time of the year (as can those provided by the National Vegetarian Week campaign, if you so wish!).
Their 7-day recipe ideas will take all the hard work out of meal planning, so all you need to do is cook and enjoy the amazing, guilt-free food.
Organisations like Slimming World can help you to plan your weekly meals. Photo credit: mealmakeovermoms on VisualHunt / CC BY-ND
Check out the table below for some examples of a weekly vegetarian meal at Slimming World:
|Monday||Crustless red onion and courgette quiche|
|Tuesday||Asparagus and roast pepper muffins|
|Thursday||Baked eggs with peppers, spinach and tomato|
|Friday||South Indian vegetable curry|
|Saturday||Feta couscous with griddled veg|
|Sunday||Mediterranean vegetable filo tart|
With such diverse, flavorful and satisfying dishes on offer, it is a wonder why we find losing weight so difficult!
The benefit of eating well-balanced vegetarian recipes designed by experts is that you can feel confident that you get the necessary nutrients, be good to your body and stay feeling full.
If you aren’t up for sticking to vegetarianism for any length of time, but are keen to try out a meat-free diet first-hand in order to reap the many benefits even for just a small period, then you might like to try adopting a plant-based diet for a week.
National Vegetarian Week 2018 will run from 14-20 May and is all about eating delicious and exciting plant-based food.
Anyone can join, even if they don’t plan to continue with a meat-free diet afterwards. The idea is to highlight the benefits of vegetarianism by encouraging others to try it out.
If this interests you, or you want to invite a friend to join you eating meat-free food, then you can sign up for the campaign’s newsletters which will be packed full of fantastic recipes, helpful information and competitions throughout the course of the week.
This campaign is similar to the Veganuary one, set up to encourage people to go vegan for the month of January.
I recently heard someone talking of Veguary too which, as far as I can tell, is the February equivalent of Veganuary, but for veggies.
But you don’t have to wait for one of the campaigns – go vegetarian today if it is something you have thought carefully about. You won’t look back, I swear! And if you need some inspiration, there are many food bloggers who offer great recipe ideas.
For more interesting facts about vegetarian cooking, see the following blogs: