(NaturalNews) With the proper planning and education, research shows that going vegetarian is an excellent step to improve and protect your health. By minimizing processed foods and emphasizing whole plant foods, vegetarians enjoy a more nutritious and far less toxic way of eating than the average. The bottom line: As a vegetarian, you will be better protected from a range of major diseases, take in more nutrients and potentially lose a lot of weight.
The high water content and fiber in plant foods is probably to thank for the weight loss that occurs when an omnivore becomes vegetarian. Overweight people typically lose 10 percent of their body weight when they switch to a vegetarian diet, and the body-mass index (BMI) of vegetarians is generally lower as well. Vegetarian diets have less saturated fat and are likely to contain less fat overall.
Fiber, the indigestible matter that gives structure to plant foods, is essential for speeding waste out of the body. Virtually all whole plant foods have a positive impact on digestion. Animal foods, on the other hand, contain no fiber and move sluggishly through the digestive system. This results in constipation and putrefaction of meat in the digestive tract, letting harmful bacteria linger.
A healthier heart
Fiber has another health benefit - reducing cholesterol. One type, soluble fiber, actually pulls cholesterol out of the body. Vegetarians also have a head start on healthy cholesterol, since plant foods don't contain any. As a result, cholesterol levels in vegetarians are typically 40 points lower than those of omnivores. Blood pressure is also lower overall, suggesting that vegetarians have a 20-40 percent reduced risk of heart disease and a 30-60 percent reduced risk of stroke. In fact, an analysis of five studies concluded that vegetarians have a 34 percent reduced risk of dying from a heart attack compared to omnivores.
High antioxidant content in many plant foods like berries and raw chocolate combats the cellular damage caused by unstable oxygen molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals, which are ingested from cooked foods and polluted air (among other sources), are one of the main causes of aging. A diet high in whole and fresh foods can actually turn back the clock by knocking these down.
Reduced risk of cancer
One of the best reasons to go vegetarian is this: Vegetarians have a 40 percent reduced risk of getting cancer. There are several explanations for this statistic. Vegetarians tend to be thinner, and obesity in particular is associated with increased cancer risk. The high fiber content of plant foods speeds waste through your system, which cuts the risk of colon cancer. And diets high in fat and animal foods spike cancer risk, especially that of breast cancer, through their action on hormones.
A less toxic body
Since animals concentrate the toxins they ingest in their tissues, meat and milk is much higher in toxins than plant foods are. Wild fish contain alarming amounts of mercury; the FDA recommends eating fish only 2-3 times per week. And the EPA reports that 95 percent of human exposure to dioxin, a dangerous toxin, comes from consuming meat, fish and dairy. Animal foods are also often high in pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones.