Whether you like it or not, you can’t change the facts: Our country is about to face a serious meat shortage. Between meat processing plants shutting down and grocery stores limiting the amount of meat you can buy, there’s definitely a strain on an important facet of the food supply chain. Even Wendy’s is limiting the burgers they sell! However, while meat may be in short supply, did you ever think about what would happen to your body if you stop eating meat?
Every year, thousands of people decide to forgo meat and fish and find there are a lot of health benefits to it. And while it may seem like your diet will be lacking some serious protein, there are actually a lot of other protein alternatives you can turn to during a meat shortage. Plus, a lot of plant-based protein is great for your body! Not only are plant-based proteins great for your overall metabolism and digestion, but it can even protect you from disease.
So whether you find yourself facing a serious meat shortage at your grocery store, or are thinking about eliminating all meat from your diet in general, here are a few things your body when you stop eating meat—according to experts.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics prescribed a vegetarian diet; those who undertook it had an average weight loss of 7.5 lbs. If you build your meals from an array of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, weight loss can be easier than if you follow other regimens: A recent study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found veganism to be superior to 11 other diets for weight loss.
Aside from weight loss, you’ll probably see a marked drop in your cholesterol. To a large extent, our genes determine our cholesterol level; however, exercise and your diet will also affect cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that plant-based vegetarian diets are associated with lower levels of total cholesterol, including lower levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, compared to omnivorous diets.
The gut of a non-meat-eater will be cleaner than that of a person who digests meat on a daily basis, says Susan Tucker, holistic nutritionist and founder of Green Beat Life. Why? Most meat comes from animals that are given hormones and antibiotics. Then it’s treated with preservatives. (Under normal circumstances, meat starts to decompose very quickly.) “Vegans and vegetarians consume a high volume of fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants, which keep the whole system cleaner,” she says.
The extra fiber and good bacteria in a vegetarian’s gut reduces inflammation, adds nutritionist Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Nutritious Life. She cites a 2014 study published in the journal Nutrition, in which researchers compared the gut health of vegetarians, vegans and omnivores. Vegetarians were found to have lower rates of improper insulin signaling, which results in metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Glassman says it’s theorized that lower inflammation enables an internal housecleaning: Fiber acts like a broom to sweep out pathogens in the gut. Chim Chim Cher-ee!
Beauty may only be skin deep, but it reflects how happy our digestive situation is, says Tucker. She claims that plant eaters have a certain glow. “Many find that their acne, rosacea, or eczema clears up when they give up meat,” she says, adding that the antioxidants, fiber, and minerals in a plant-based diet help the system to detoxify daily, contributing to healthier skin.
You may find that the people applauding your lifestyle change are doing so from a safe distance. Suddenly increasing your fiber intake (via fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains) may cause you to experience gas and bloating. To offset this unwanted side effect, Glassman recommends that you ease into the diet, phasing out meat and steadily increasing foods that are especially high in fiber.
Assuming you swap meat with healthier alternatives — and not potato chips and ice cream — you’ll protect yourself from various heart diseases, cardio-metabolic risk factors, and some cancers. This was the conclusion of a 2014 study which looked at three groups of 7th Day Adventists, a Christian denomination whose members abstain from meat eating. According to Glassman, these improved health outcomes are, in part, another result of eating more fiber, which lowers cholesterol and increases satiety, causing people to eat fewer calories. The antioxidants that abound in fruits and vegetables protect against heart disease, she says. Other studies have shown that meat eaters also have increased risks of ailments such as appendicitis, chronic inflammation, and kidney disease.