By Megan Othersen Gorman | July 10, 2015
People who stop eating meat might experience some interesting changes, good and positive.
Anyone who’s seen the documentary/horror show Supersize Me has considered going vegetarian. Heck, almost everyone with healthy urges has seriously contemplated the meatless life at one time or another. If you’ve hesitated out of concern for your burger-loving, deprivation-hating body, don’t worry, says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “Nothing dramatic is going to happen biochemically.”
Of course, “nothing dramatic” doesn’t mean you won’t benefit. Check it out:
You May Lose A Few Pounds
Neal Barnard, MD, adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a group he founded to promote a plant-based diet for disease prevention—recently reviewed all clinical trials of vegetarian diets in terms of weight loss. His findings, published this month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reveal that going green tends to lead to a lighter you—even if shedding pounds isn’t the original goal for going vegetarian. The average weight loss tracked by Barnard: 7.5 pounds. And the longer study, the greater the loss.
You May Gain Some Healthy Bacteria In Your Gut—And Some Bloat, At Least At First
“Your body has digestive enzymes that handle the proteins in both meat and plants, and that doesn’t change when you stop eating meat,” explains Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. However, she says, all the indigestible carbohydrates in plant protein sources and other plant-based foods can alter the bacterial profile in your intestines. And researchers believe the new carbs can help boost the population of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Because it can take some time for your intestinal tract to adapt to its new residents, you can initially feel gassy and bloated. But with patience, you’ll adapt. Plus, Applegate points out: “Plant-based diets have been shown to lower the risk for various chronic diseases along with waist size,” she says.
You May Protect Yourself From Heart Disease
Several large studies involving more than 76,000 men and women have compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians with similar lifestyles. The results demonstrate that death from ischemic heart disease (caused by severe narrowing or closing of the coronary arteries) was 24 percent lower in vegetarians than in carnivores—perhaps due in part to lower levels of inflammation. “Plant-based diets have been proven time and again to be anti-inflammatory,” asserts Emily Bailey, RD, director of nutrition coaching, sports nutrition, eating disorders, and weight management at NutriFormance in St. Louis.
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