This week is National Vegetarian Week, and although every week might be vegetarian week in your home with approximately 14% of people in the UK identifying as vegetarians and 7% vegans, for the majority of us, giving up meat is just something we either don’t want to do or have yet been able to. If the thought of a summer without grilling beef burgers on the barbecue or tucking into some greasy fish and chips on the beach sounds unbearable to you, we get it, but did you know there are countless health benefits to giving up meat in favour of colourful and flavoursome vegetarian dishes!?

Long gone are the days when your parents would worry that without meat you just wouldn’t be getting the proteins and essential nutrients you need to not waste away to nothing (or at least we hope those days are long gone). Vegetarian and vegan dishes can be just as exciting and delicious as your favourite meat dish (perhaps even more so?) while containing even more nutrients than you’d get from your favourite steak and chips or KFC 14-piece party bucket.

It could make you happier

As much as you may wish for a skinnier waist, nothing is more important than a good mood. After all, the reason you probably want a smaller waste to begin with is because you think it’ll make you happy. Instead of just starving yourself, a route that will only leave you hungry and miserable, consider changing to a vegetarian diet.

Research suggests vegetarians may be happier than those who eat meat, generally recording lower scores on depression tests and mood profiles. Many meat-based dishes contain arachidonic acid, which has been liked to mood disturbances, so by removing this from your diet, the chances you’ll wake up with a smile will increase. Tucking into that beef burger may make you happier in the moment, but it could very well be the thing that’s been affecting your mood in the long-term. It’s a vicious cycle.

Less likely to become obese

There’s far more to life than worrying about the size of your waist, but if your weight is a health concern for you, effectively tackling this issue is only going to make you happier and healthier in the long run.

In general, vegetarians and vegans are far more likely to deliberately choose which foods they eat and think about the health benefits of each and every meal than meat eaters. Also, due to their generally better mood (see above), they’re also less likely to pick foods based on emotions and think of food less as a solution to their low mood and more as a way to keep their body healthy.

Vegetarians on average weigh less than their meat-eating friends – not because they are starving themselves with salads – but because a diet comprised of ingredients like grains, legumes, and vegetables contain fewer calories and have you feeling fuller for longer, meaning it’s far easier to keep to that 2000-calorie-a-day limit.

Fights illness and disease

A study by George Washington University School of Medicine found that vegetarian diets are an effective tool to help manage diabetes whilst also preventing the likelihood of developing the illness by a massive 50%.

Naturally low in saturated fats, vegetarian diets also help reduce the risk of heart disease and vegetarians suffer from hypertension, diet-related cancers, diverticulitis, gall stones, and constipation less than their meat-eating friends. This is due to vegetarian dishes being rich in antioxidants, fibre, phytonutrients, flavonoids, and carotenoids.

Your cholesterol level will likely improve too, as those with high cholesterol are usually advised to stay away from food with a high fat content, such as animal fat. By removing animal fat from your diet, not only should your cholesterol levels go down, but your fat percentage will likely go down too.

Improves your eyesight and skin

Vegetarians also tend to have better vision than meat eaters, and according to a study carried out by the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oxford, meat eaters are at the highest risk of developing cataracts and those at the lowest risk are vegetarians and vegans.

Vegetarian dishes are often packed full of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals that help support the health of your skin, hair and nails. Carotenoid-packed vegetables are also great for preventing UV light damage which results in dry skin, wrinkles, and melanoma.

Increases your life expectancy

Obviously, if you’re happy, healthy, less overweight, and not suffering from diabetes, heart disease or diet-related cancers, it’s a given that your life expectancy will probably increase. A study of more than 73,000 people in 2013 found that a vegetarian diet reduces all-cause mortality by 12%, and another study in 2003 of 1.5 million found that eating a vegetarian (or very low-meat)  diet for at least 20 years can increase your life expectancy by over 3 and a half years. Whether you’d trade your favourite meat dishes for three and a half years more life on average though is completely your choice.

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