Photo: Fresh Greek Salad

by Tandis Bishop

January is a time of the year when people think about shedding weight and making resolutions to get healthy. However well-meaning, most people who make such resolutions don’t stick with their "new" healthy commitments for very long. For many, it’s too difficult to keep up. Others grow impatient when the results they seek take longer than they want. Unfortunately, becoming truly healthy is not a quick fix. We need to go beyond New Year's resolutions.

Getting healthy and maintaining good health requires an overall lifestyle change through healthy habits that are practiced consistently over the long term. This was the message of a December 2009 article in the Harvard Gazette1, which reported on findings of the long-running Nurses’ Health Study.

The Nurses Health Study was established 1976 with funding from the National Institutes of Health. According to the article, as much as 80 percent of heart disease, 70 percent of strokes, and 90 percent of diabetes — three of the nation’s top 10 killers — are related to just four lifestyle factors: avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and embracing a heart-healthy diet.

Of course, no other diet is more heart-healthy than a wholesome vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is naturally low in fat and high in fiber, which helps facilitate a healthy weight.

Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases, including our country’s three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, and strokes. The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; ... lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer” and that vegetarians are less likely than meat-eaters to be obese.2 Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh and eggs.

Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters.34 Plus, meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than are vegans.5

Of course, for some it may be difficult to make all the changes at once. So we recommend a slow approach to transition, taking small steps at a time. For example, one way to begin would be to eat less meat at a single meal or have meat only a couple times a week instead of everyday. Other helpful steps include simple things such as removing sodas from your diet, substituting them with natural fruit juice or water. For snacks, instead of having candy bars and heavily processed snack foods, choose fruits and nuts, whole grain crackers, or veggies and dips. The idea is to have foods that are free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives, and are minimally processed.

Instead of giving up everything all at once, you can let go of things one at a time until you have achieved a healthy lifestyle that is all-vegetarian, organic, and natural. Or, if you're like the fortunate few that can go cold-turkey, then even better. See the “Health Tip” column in this month’s newsletter for healthy staples that would be good to have in your kitchen.

Footnotes: 
  1. “Want to live well?,” Harvard Gazette, Harvard University, Dec. 17, 2009: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/12/health-the-harvard-way/
  2. Ann Mangels, Virginia Messina, and Vesanto Melina, "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Jun. 2003, pp. 748-65.
  3. Elizabeth Somer, "Eating Meat: A Little Doesn't Hurt," WebMD, 1999.
  4. Neal Barnard, M.D., The Power of Your Plate, Book Publishing Co.: Summertown, Tenn., 1990, p. 26.
  5. John Robbins, The Food Revolution, Conari Press: Boston, 2001, p. 58.