The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 70 percent of all disease is diet-related. Epidemiologically, a well-balanced vegetarian diet has been shown to statistically increase longevity and reduce the overall incidence of degenerative disease. Being a vegetarian, however, brings with it no health guarantee: There are sick vegetarians who overeat, consume too many nutritionless foods, and don’t’ eat enough health-protective fruits and vegetables. If a vegetarian who is hypothetically doing “everything right” in the diet department still gets sick, one ought not blame the imagined inadequacies of the vegetarian diet, but rather consider his or her illness the result of an unfortunate combination of factors: the effects of genetics, stress, environmental pollution, karmic destiny, or some other unknown factor.
Dispelling Lingering Myths
In the 1800s, vegetarianism trickled into North America along with Asian transcendentalism and the European “nature cure” movement. In “meat and potatoes” America, abstaining from animal foods was initially perceived as fringe and dangerous. An exception to the norn was an early American pioneer, the gentle vegetarian Jonathan Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed), who chose not to eat the flesh of his friends the animals and was revered and protected by his native admirers.
Without setting out to do so, thousands of scientific studies have legitimized vegetarianism as a diet with far fewer health risks compared with a diet that includes animal foods. In the United States alone, the health cost of meat consumption is estimated to be up to $60 billion a year due to the higher prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, obesity, and food-borne illness among omnivores as compared with vegetarians.
In spite of these sobering, revealing statistics, there are still those who doubt the nutritional adequacy of the vegetarian diet.