Do you want to live a longer, healthier life, and significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to many of the serious health threats facing Australians today? It could be as simple and inexpensive as changing your diet.

Many people are now realising that going meat-free is one of the simplest ways to increase life expectancy, and protect against stroke, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer — some of this country’s top killers.

The benefits of a healthy vegetarian lifestyle can do more than just offer individuals a new lease on life, they can help our whole community. The treatment of these health problems puts enormous pressure on relationships, quality of life and personal budgets — as well as our national health care system.

Heart disease

“I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.”

Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the western world. While there are many contributors to the disease, one of the primary factors is a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fats.1 Dairy, egg and meats (including fish and chicken) are generally high in saturated fats and cholesterol. On the other hand, a healthy plant based diet is low in saturated fats and contains no cholesterol at all. The result? Vegetarians are around 32 percent less likely to be hospitalized or die from heart disease.2

Cancer

Cancer is now the number one killer of Australians — it's even more deadly than heart disease. And research has shown that consumption of meat and other animal products is strongly linked to several types of cancer.3

In fact, in 2015 the World Health Organization announced that processed meats like bacon, ham and sausages rank alongside smoking, asbestos and arsenic as causes of cancer.

According to Dr T. Colin Campbell, animal protein is a prime carcinogen in meat and dairy. ‘[H]uman studies also support this carcinogenic effect of animal protein, even at usual levels of consumption. … No chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.’, says Dr. Campbell.

“We are more sure now than ever before that eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer and this is why the World Cancer Research Fund recommends that people avoid eating it. The evidence is that whether you are talking about bacon, ham or pastrami, the safest amount to eat is none at all.”

The American Cancer Society’s top dietary recommendation to prevent cancers is: Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods.4

A vegetarian diet is also packed full of goodies that can help promote health, such as fibre and phytochemicals. Research indicates a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of oesophagus, stomach, bowel, breast and ovarian cancers.5,6,7

Diabetes

As with many of the most prevalent health problems in Western society, maintaining a healthy body weight is an important factor to prevent and treat diabetes. A low fat vegetarian diet reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes8, 9 and can reduce the need for self medication for those who have type 2 diabetes.10

Certainly a healthy vegetarian diet has less artery clogging cholesterol and saturated fats than one full of meat, eggs and dairy, but that's not the only way that it helps. A vegetarian diet tends to be high in complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre, which has a positive effect on the metabolism to help lower blood sugar levels.11

Stroke

Just as fatty foods, such as meat, egg and dairy can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks, they can also clog the arteries in your brain and lead to strokes. On average vegetarians have lower blood pressure12 and healthier cholesterol13 than meat eaters. Research has found that a plant based diet can also reverse astherosclerosis, the hardening of arteries, which often causes heart attacks and strokes.14

What about protein?

According to recent reports, diets high in animal protein could be 'as harmful as smoking'. Research, tracking a large sample of adults for nearly two decades, has found that in people under 65 eating a diet high in protein from animal sources may make you four times more likely to die of cancer or diabetes.15

Not only did the study suggest that excessive protein consumption is linked to a dramatic rise in cancer mortality, but middle-aged people who eat lots of proteins from animal sources — including meat, milk and cheese — are also more susceptible to early death in general. People with a high protein intake were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause within the study period than their counterparts who ate less protein. Yet, the harmful effects seen in the study were almost completely absent when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes.

Luckily, it's simple to eat a healthy amount of plant-based protein each day in a balanced diet.

Keeping antibiotics effective

Experts are warning that the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is increasing the risk of aggressive and drug resistant strains of human diseases. It's estimated that around half of all antibiotics worldwide are used in animal agriculture — often when animals aren't even sick.16

Eat well, feel great!

On average, those who follow vegetarian diets are leaner and lighter than their meat-eating counterparts.17 This is not surprising, as much of the saturated fats found in a typical western diet comes from animal origin. Many people report losing excess kilos, and having greater levels of energy after making the switch.

A plant-based diet can also help improve overall nutrition, with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes packing a powerful punch when it comes to fibre and protective nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.18

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, a balanced vegetarian diet can meet all of our nutrient needs19, so Australians can feel confident about reaping the benefits of a bountiful plant-based lifestyle.

As is the case with any diet, it is important to consume a wide variety of foods to ensure you gain the nutrients necessary for optimum health, and remember that different life stages have differing nutritional requirements. Click here to find out more about vegetarian nutrition.

Next: for the planet »

References

[1] The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat, Compassion in World Farming

[2] Crowe F, Appleby PN, Travis RC, Key TJ. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. Am J of Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print January 30, 2013

[3] Grant W, A multicountry ecological study of cancer incidence rates in 2008 with respect to various risk-modifying factors. Nutrients. 2014;6:163-189.

[4] Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, American Cancer Society

[5] Link LB, Canchola AJ, Bernstein L, et al. Dietary patterns and breast cancer risk in the California Teachers Study cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Oct 9. 2013

[6] Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G, Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Feb;22(2):286-94

[7] Lanou A, Svenson B, Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports, Cancer Manag Res. 2011; 3: 1–8.

[8] Jenkins DJ et al, Type 2 Diabetes and the Vegetarian Diet, Am J Clin Nutr September 2003 vol. 78 no. 3 610S-616S

[9] Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in red meat consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. JAMA Intern Med. 2013; 173: 1328-1335.

[10] Low-Fat Vegan Diet May Treat Diabetes, Jennifer Warner, WebMD Medical News, 26 Jul. 2006

[11] 25 ways to lower blood pressure, James Scala, PhD

[12] Yokoyama Y et al. Vegetarian Diets and Blood Pressure A Meta-analysis, JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 24, 2014

[13] Bradbury KE, Crowe FL, Appleby PN, Schmidt JA, Travis RC, Key, TJ. Serum concentrations of cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I and apolipoprotein B in a total of 1694 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68:178-183

[14] The Food Revolution, John Robbins (Boston: Conari Press, 2001)

[15] Levine et al, 2014 Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population, Cell Metabolism, Volume 19, Issue 3

[16] Use of antimicrobials outside human medicine and resultant antimicrobial resistance in humans, World Health Organization

[17] Rizzo NS, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Sabate J, Fraser GE. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns continuing professional education (CPE) information. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:1610-1619.

[18] Mishra S, Xu J, Agarwal U, Gonzales J, Levin S, Barnard N. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a plant-based nutrition program to reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk in the corporate setting: the GEICO study. Eur J Clin Nutr 2013; 67: 718–724.

[19] Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013

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