Eating meat or abstaining from it completely is a personal choice. While some people cannot even fathom the thought of giving up meat, others may realize a vegetarian lifestyle is healthier and more sustainable.
The cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer, published an alarming report in October 2015.
The report, based on studies conducted over 20 years, assessed the cancer-causing potential of two of the world’s most popular varieties of meat – red meat and processed meat.
Red meat includes all kinds of muscle meat, such as beef, pork, mutton, lamb, veal and horse.
Processed meat includes meat that has undergone processes, such as salting, curing, fermentation and smoking, and is no longer in its natural state.
Processed meat includes pastrami, salami, beef jerky, sausages, ham, frankfurters (hot dogs), burger patty, canned meats and meat sauce among other things.
According to the report, regularly eating processed meat is associated with colorectal cancer. The experts said that a person who consumes 50 grams of processed meat each day increases his or her risk of developing this cancer.
The experts further clarified that while eating processed meat alone isn’t as carcinogenic, the risk increases when a person regularly eats other kinds of meat in conjunction with processed meat every now and then.
While the nutritional benefits of non-processed meat is a valid consideration, the health risks for someone who regularly consumes meat outweigh the benefits, especially considering the ample vegetarian substitutes capable of providing the same nutrition.
When it comes to your diet and health, it is extremely important to make a well-informed decision. Whether you decide to eliminate meat from your diet or simply cut back, you must know how it will affect your body.
Here’s what happens to your body when you stop eating meat.
1. Your Heart Health Improves
Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism against an attack by disease-causing microorganisms and viruses.
However, certain foods like meat are inflammatory and may allow the inflammation to persist. Persisting inflammation is an underlying cause of major diseases, including heart disease.
Neu5Gc is a molecule not produced in the body but found in red meat.
When you eat red meat, your body reacts to this foreign molecule by activating body inflammation as an immune response, according to a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When you eat meat regularly, your body keeps responding in this manner, allowing the inflammation to persist.
Moreover, red meat contains a compound called L-carnitine that triggers clogging of the arteries when it interacts with intestinal bacteria, according to a 2013 study published in Nature Medicine. Clogged arteries are the number one cause of heart disease-associated deaths.
On the other hand, vegetarian diets are mostly anti-inflammatory and help protect your heart.
2. You Protect Yourself from Cancer
Inflammation is an underlying cause for a variety of potentially fatal diseases and cancer is one among them.
The WHO report makes very clear the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meat, further exacerbated by regular consumption of any other kinds of meat.
Earlier studies also found associations between meat consumption and increased risk of certain cancers.
High meat consumption is associated with the incidence of colorectal cancer (which includes colon, rectal and bowel cancers), according to a 2004 study published in Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.
When meat is cooked or even smoked at high temperatures, it releases certain chemicals that alter the human DNA and make them more susceptible to cancer, the study further notes.
A vegetarian diet poses no such risks.
Vegetarians are at a lower risk of contracting certain cancers (stomach, ovarian and bladder cancer among others) than meat eaters, according to a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Medicine.
Switching from a non-vegetarian diet to a vegetarian diet reduces bile acids and neutral sterols, and subsequently decreases the risk of colon cancer.
Bile acids and neutral sterols are fats that occur with feces and are a high-risk factor for colon cancer should they be present in large amounts.
3. Your Chances of Living Longer Increase
Eating meat, particularly red meat and processed varieties, may shorten your life span.
An analysis of long-term dietary patterns of thousands of people from America and Europe showed that vegetarians and those who ate very low amounts of meat lived longer lives, according to a 2003 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Out of thousands of people whose dietary patterns were studied, those who consumed more red meat died sooner and younger from heart disease and cancer, according to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Those who consume a daily serving of red meat increase the chances of death by 13 percent, which shoots up to 20 percent if the red meat is processed, too, the study further notes.
Replacing meat in your diet with vegetarian sources of protein, such as dairy products, legumes and nuts, may increase your life span.
4. You Lose Weight
When people switch from a meat-dominated diet to a low- or no-meat diet, they start to lose weight as they turn to low-calorie, plant-based diets for overall nutrition.
A purely plant-based vegan diet (zero consumption of animal meat and animal-derived products like dairy) was associated with significant weight loss in overweight subjects at regular follow-up periods of 1 to 2 years, according to a 2007 study published in Obesity.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits that are incredibly rich sources of fiber. Fiber has always been positively related to lower body mass index (BMI) and weight. Moreover, plant-based foods are richer in nutrition and lower in calories.
People who followed a vegetarian diet lost 4.4 pounds and those who observed a vegan diet lost 5.5 pounds more than people who followed a non-vegetarian diet, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
5. You Prevent Diabetes or Manage it Better
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body begins resisting insulin, the hormone that controls high blood sugar levels. This leads toType 2 diabetes.
Weight gain, especially abdominal weight, is associated with the development of diabetes. A low-calorie vegetarian diet controlled abdominal weight and regulated the insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients, according to a 2011 study published in Diabetic Medicine.
Red meats, especially processed varieties, contain high amounts of sodium, nitrates and nitrites, all of which promote insulin resistance by inhibiting the activity of beta cells responsible for producing insulin.
On the other hand, plant-based diets such as nuts, whole grains, beans and low-fat dairy significantly lower the risk of diabetes.
Vegan and vegetarian subjects, as well as those who largely consumed a vegetarian diet with occasional meat consumption, showed a significantly lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarian subjects, according to a 2013 study published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.
6. You Keep Your Blood Pressure under Control
Red meat is also associated with high blood pressure, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine.
When the intestinal bacteria metabolizes red meat, it releases a compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide, and this compound might contribute to elevating blood pressure, the study further notes.
Moreover, red meat contains a high amount of saturated fats. Regular consumption of saturated fats in the long term clogs arteries, which strains them as they have to work extra hard to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This strain is manifested through an increased blood pressure.
Furthermore, processed meat is not only high in saturated fats but also contains an increasingly harmful amount of sodium, another factor for elevated blood pressure.
On the other hand, consumption of a plant-based vegetarian diet was associated with lower blood pressure, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
7. You Get Relief from Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain
You may have heard people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) say that a certain diet proved helpful in alleviating their symptoms.
Studies have shown that certain diets may alter the behavior of microorganisms that play a role in promoting RA pain.
Patients with medium-to-severe RA who switched to a low-fat vegan diet reported significantly reduced symptoms, according to a 2002 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
8. Your Acne May Improve
Meat is a rich source of vitamin B12, an excess of which can trigger an acne breakout. This is the reason people whose diets are meat-dominated break out more frequently than occasional meat eaters and vegetarians.
Researchers noted that the skin pathways responsible for producing vitamin B12 are different in acne-prone individuals from those without acne, according to a 2015 study published in Science Translational Medicine.
Upon further investigation, the researchers noted that people who were given vitamin B12 injections developed acne a few days later, and P. Acnes (the acne gene) observed in petri dishes in the lab began producing porphyrins, compounds that promote inflammation in acne.
Since meats are high sources of vitamin B12, eating meat regularly is likely to activate acne, while a vegetarian diet supplying moderate amounts of vitamin B12 is likely to help control it.