Photo: Foal with a Woman

Did you know that eating a plant-based diet can help reduce your health risks and increase your compassion? We’ve talked before about certain health benefits of eating a plant-based diet – particularly the fact that meat is high in saturated fat, which contributes to cancer, high blood pressure and strokes. However, a plant-based diet offers another health benefit that you may not have considered: the relaxing, immunity-boosting effects of compassion.

Many people instinctively feel compassion towards animals, especially pets. When you get home from work and your dog runs up and licks you in the face to welcome you--wagging his tail wildly—you can’t help yourself. Your dog loves you and you can’t help but love him back. Some would say that’s because, indeed, there is a person inside there. We often feel deep compassion for such animals.

But at dinner time, it’s easy to forget that the meat on your plate was once a living being with feelings and thoughts of its own. When you make the conscious effort to give up something you enjoy (like the taste or the convenience of meat) for the benefit of another living entity, this reinforces feelings of compassion and altruism.

According to medical traditions from around the world, compassionate feelings and actions towards others can improve health in a number of ways. For example, many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine explain that developing compassion is actually the foundation of healing. Today, research scientists are starting to notice that there are measurable health benefits to compassion.

For starters, having a compassionate attitude towards others – animals as well as people – helps decrease stress. Many people in modern society suffer from chronic stress. During stress, our brain releases chemicals and hormones that damage our body over a prolonged period. Because stress impacts our ability to fight infection and inflammation, reducing stress has the effect of boosting our immune system overall.

In addition, engaging in compassionate acts helps encourage the relaxation response in our nervous systems. The relaxation response is the opposite of stress. It helps your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and hormone levels return to normal. The relaxation response also helps relieve pain by releasing endorphins. This creates an effect similar to the way a person feels after a good work out.

Finally, compassion helps to promote feelings of well-being and a positive mental attitude that combat anxiety and depression. Shifting our perspective outwards to focus on others helps take the focus off of our own worries and concerns.

The fact is that eating animals is unnecessary because nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance. Therefore, the slaughter of animals for food is a luxury rather than a necessity and is morally wrong.

A vegetarian lifestyle awakens our spirit of compassion and guides us towards a kinder, gentler society in which we exercise a moral choice to protect animals—not exploit them by killing them merely to unnecessarily satisfy our tongues and bellies. Down to Earth’s slogan is Love Life!—based on the idea that it is better to love animals, not eat them.

So, next time you’re at the grocery store, take a moment to consider your frame of mind. Let yourself indulge in a feeling of compassion and care towards everyone you meet – people as well as animals. You can feel secure knowing that the good feelings you get from being polite to other shoppers, smiling at the cashier - and reaching for the tofu or tempeh instead of a pork chop – you are helping your health in more ways than one.