World Vegan Day: How turning to plants can lower the rising US obesity rates

World Vegan Day: How turning to plants can lower the rising US obesity rates
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Today is World Vegan Day, and the number of practicing vegans is rising world-wide. According to a new study in Great Britain, one-third of all Brits have decreased the amount of meat they eat or stopped eating meat altogether. The World Vegan Society claims that in 2017, the demand for meat-free food increased by almost 1,000 percent. In the United States, we have seen a shift on what we consume — largely due to the increasing obesity rates — but meat consumption is still high.

According to a recent Harris Interactive Poll, 6 million to 8 million Americans eat no meat, poultry, or fish. About 2 million forgo animal products entirely, including milk, cheese, eggs and gelatin. 

This is a diet high in nutrients and unsaturated fats, and it is much healthier provided it includes enough protein, vitamins and minerals. Historically, primate diets have always been primarily plant-based. Today’s large howler monkeys, for example, are strict herbivores, and they combine this health diet with plenty of high-energy exercise, living for 15 to 20 years in the wild. 

According to 2016 statistics from the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, 93.3 million adults are obese, and that number has steadily increased over the years. With a burgeoning obesity and diabetes epidemic, weight loss is a priority for public health officials. 

Money also plays a part in the concern for the rising obesity rate. Per capita, health-care costs are “81 percent higher than for healthy weight adults.” However, there is still time to change this trend.  

Recent studies have shown that a diet high in legumes decreases the risk of colon cancer, and eating more than seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day reduces your risk of dying of cancer by up to 15 percent. 

Vegans also have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. They also tend to eat more fiber, which is good for both your gut and your heart.   

Plant-based diets have been shown to reduce the pain from arthritis and increase energy in arthritis patients. This is likely due to the fact that meat increase overall inflammation in the body. What’s more, a landmark 2012 study in Nutrition Journal demonstrated that restricting meat, fish and poultry in omnivores improved mood, probably because of less arachidonic acid. 

Vegetarians have been shown to live longer, but it’s not necessarily because they don’t eat meat. Vegetarians have also been shown to be less likely to drink alcohol, to smoke, to exercise regularly, and to be married, all factors that themselves lead to better health and a longer life.

And yet, 84 percent of vegans and vegetarians return to eating meat over time. Why might this be, and what can be done about it?

The answer is mostly because an all-veggie diet is hard to maintain over many years — one of the reasons the overall numbers of vegetarians and vegans in the world remain small. A more realistic approach to diet might be to reduce meat, poultry, fish and all animal products (a process good for your health) rather than tackle the more prodigious attempt to ban these food sources altogether.

Bottom line, to improve your health and increase your life span, increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, and nuts that you eat. Full is full, and always better to be sated by a salad or a bowl of fiber-filled low-carb berries rather than to chomp into a mayo-filled bacon cheeseburger.

Marc Siegel, M.D., is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent.