Increased amounts of fiber, complex carbohydrates and vitamins
A vegetarian diet includes high amounts of dietary fiber as well as complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, and an abundance of vitamins. These essential nutrients are lacking in meat, with the exception of B vitamins, and absent from dairy products.
High amounts of phytonutrients are in fruits and vegetables
Phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, are compounds present in high amounts in certain fruits and vegetables. Phytonutrients are known to provide many health benefits, such as enhancing immune response, protection from free radicals, lowering cholesterol, lowering the risk of cancer and heart disease, and reducing inflammation.
Eliminating exposure to harmful chemicals
Growth hormones and steroids are commonly given to cattle and sheep to increase their size. Antibiotics given to cows are present in meat and milk. Nitrates added to preserve meat and give it a red color are converted in the body to nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.
Lower exposure to animal-borne diseases
By not eating meat, vegetarians are at lower risk of animal-borne diseases such as mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), a fatal disease which is spread through contaminated beef. In addition, bacteria including salmonella and E. coli are commonly spread through eggs, meat and poultry, and parasites such as trichinella are found in pork.
Lower incidence of hypertension
Vegetarians have a lower incidence of hypertension (high blood pressure) than non-vegetarians. Eating five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits daily has been shown to lower blood pressure.
Studies have shown that when people switched from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet, their total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels decreased. This is thought to be due to the decreased amounts of saturated fat and increased amount of soluble fiber, soy isoflavones and nuts in a vegetarian diet, which are known to reduce cholesterol levels.
Vegetarians have a lower average body mass index (BMI) than non-vegetarians. Results of a large study showed that meat-eaters had the highest BMI and vegans had the lowest, while vegetarians had values in the middle. BMI values were lower for those who had been on a vegetarian diet for more than five years.
Lower risk of diabetes
Risk of developing diabetes is half as high in vegetarians as in non-vegetarians. Red meat, especially processed meat such as hot dogs and bacon, has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes. Conversely, eating large amounts of whole grains, vegetables, nuts and legumes including peanuts and soybeans lowers the risk of developing diabetes.
Lower cancer risk
Vegetarians have a lower overall risk of cancer, and significantly lower rates of colorectal and prostate cancer compared to non-vegetarians. According to the National Cancer Institute, heterocyclic amines, compounds that increase the risk of cancer, are produced when beef, pork, chicken and fish are cooked at high temperatures.
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Vegetarians have a reduced risk of death from ischemic heart disease, a condition in which the blood and oxygen supply to the heart is reduced due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Symptoms may include angina, heart failure, and heart attack. The lowered risk was seen in vegetarians who ate dairy and eggs as well as those following a vegan diet.