Obesity is a serious, life-limiting and life-threatening condition which makes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer1 more likely. Currently, more than 39 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are obese.2
Choosing to eat a plant-based diet can be more effective than a standard low-fat diet in managing body weight.3 Studies have shown that vegetarians tend to be slimmer than meat eaters, while vegans appear to have the lowest Body Mass Index (BMI) of all.4
Watch one man’s story of dramatic weight loss
Heart disease is the number one cause of deaths, both in the US5 and worldwide.6 It is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries around the heart (the coronary arteries). This narrows the arteries, which restricts the flow of blood to the heart. Smoking and being overweight raise your risk of heart disease, and animal products are a significant part of the problem, too.7
They contain high levels of saturated fat that can raise blood cholesterol and increase our risk of developing this condition. Conversely, the majority of plants are low in saturated fat and they don’t contain any cholesterol at all, so a diet full of plant products such as whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables can help to lower blood cholesterol and provide a heart-healthy diet.8
Watch one man’s story of how he overcame heart disease
Insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths worldwide.9 But it isn’t just insufficient plant foods that can cause cancer; it’s meat itself.
In 2015, The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies to classify processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans.10 This category is used when there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. In this case, WHO determined that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer and an association with stomach cancer was also seen.
All red meat was classified as Group 2A, which means it is ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans. The strongest evidence for an association with eating red meat is for colorectal cancer but there is also evidence of links with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.11
Beyond meat, some studies have also linked dairy to prostate cancer and an increased risk of lung, breast, and ovarian cancers in people with lactose intolerance.12
Watch one woman’s story of how she beat cancer
Type 2 Diabetes
More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, with almost all of them being type 2.13 This is a potentially devastating condition that can lead to vision loss, limb amputations and kidney disease, and yet in most people it can be prevented, managed and even reversed through simple lifestyle changes.14
‘Plant-based foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, nuts, pulses and seeds, have been shown to help in the treatment of many chronic diseases and are often associated with lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, less hypertension, lower cholesterol levels and reduced cancer rates’15 – Diabetes UK
In an analysis of 14 available studies, researchers found that ‘vegetarians had a 27% lower odds of having diabetes than omnivores’ and that ‘[v]egans in particular often had the lowest odds of diabetes when compared to other types of vegetarians’. Even at the same body weight as meat-eaters, vegans appear to have less risk of diabetes.16
Watch one man’s story of how he beat diabetes
There is Good News
Actually, there is great news! Our genetics are not our destiny, and changes to our diet and lifestyle can prevent the leading causes of death from heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. Choosing plant-based foods is a great place to start, and can positively affect the health of our environment, the well-being of animals and the health of our economy as well as our own health.
‘…vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.’17 – American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
1 Koroukian SM, Dong W, Berger NA. Changes in Age Distribution of Obesity-Associated Cancers. JAMA Netw Open. Published online August 14, 20192(8):e199261. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9261
3 Turner-McGrievy GM, Barnard ND, Scialli AR. A two-year randomized weight loss trial comparing a vegan diet to a more moderate low-fat diet. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Sep;15(9):2276-81.
9 ‘Promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world’, World Health Organization