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Consuming saturated fats — which primarily come from meat and dairy — raises the level of cholesterol in your blood, and high levels of blood cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease. Ditching meat lowers the amount of saturated fat in your diet, in turn reducing your cardiovascular disease risk, says Dr. Masley.
But, recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health has called into question the relationship between all fats and cholesterol. In fact, eating fatty fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids could improve heart health. It's also important to remember that replacing meats and other sources of saturated fat with easily digestible carbs can actually negatively impact your heart disease risk as much, or more, than eating saturated fats.
You may lower your blood pressure
Vegetarians and vegans often have less hypertension than meat-eaters, according to findings published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Researchers say it's due to their lower average weight and higher intakes of fruits and vegetables.
An American Diabetes Association study found that people following a vegetarian diet had a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors linked to type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Study subjects who avoided meat and poultry products tended to have lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglycerides, as well as smaller waists, than those who regularly consumed those foods.
Your cancer risk may drop
In 2002, researchers at Loma Linda University began a 10-year study of nearly 70,000 Seventh Day Adventists, whose religious doctrine advises them against eating meat. Their research found an association between a vegan diet and a decreased risk for all cancer types. Researchers also discovered that vegetarians experienced less gastrointestinal cancer, such as colorectal cancer, and that vegan women experienced fewer female-specific cancers, such as breast cancer.
However, it's important to note that Loma Linda University is a Seventh Day Adventist institution and that Seventh Day Adventists also have extremely low rates of alcohol and tobacco use. While the researchers did compare cancer rates between vegans and vegetarians, they did not compare to cancer rates in meat-eaters with similar tobacco- and alcohol-free lifestyles.
Vegetarianism is one of the best diets for your skin. Eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains loads you up with antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals that can bring on wrinkles, brown spots, and other signs of aging.
Your energy levels might increase
Eating more spinach, kale, beans, and other foods high in dietary nitrates may help you feel more energized over time. Research has found that dietary nitrates have vascular benefits, reduce blood pressure, and may even enhance exercise performance in healthy people. "These foods open up blood vessels, allow more oxygen in, and have the ability to energize us in a deep way," says Blatner.
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