Remember when you were growing up and your mom had to bribe you to eat your fruits and vegetables? As they say, mothers know best, and even if there was not as much evidence at the time, there is now an abundance of research proving the benefits of produce consumption.
Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been associated with decreased risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, and hypertension. In addition, consumption of red and processed meats has been positively associated with development of colorectal and lung cancers and increased risk of esophageal and liver cancers. While intake of sufficient fruits and vegetables will boost your chance of avoiding these diseases, a vegetarian diet will improve your odds even more since it typically contains less cholesterol, total fat, and saturated fat than the average non-vegetarian eating pattern.
If the prevention of chronic diseases does not motivate you to make more plant-based dining choices, the social benefit of being able to continue doing the activities that you love with the people that you love should. Compliance to a vegetarian diet is shown to be an effective way to produce short-term and long-term improvements in body weight, and it is also beneficial for weight control reducing the risk of unnecessary weight gain which could eventually lead to the development of obesity. When carrying around extra weight, the work of movement becomes more difficult, and exhaustion upon exertion comes more easily. You may no longer be able to play with your kids, shop at the same clothing stores, and explore new places as easily as you did before you gained weight, and your social life and self-confidence may take a hit because of these unwanted side effects.
In conclusion, if you are not meeting your daily quota of fruits and vegetables, you should consider increasing your produce intake to consume at least 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. In addition to helping you avoid many chronic diseases, fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper body function, and without them, you would be left feeling sluggish and worn down. If you are used to making meat the main focus of your meals, try gradually adding in a few meatless meals each week that focus on fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins, and whole grains. Even starting out with eating vegetarian for just one day each week, like promoted by the Meatless Monday movement, will allow you to begin your journey to improved health and greater quality of life. Need help to get started? You can find inspiration for lots of tasty, easy, vegetarian meals on both my Instagram and the Meatless Monday website.
American Dietetic Association (2011). American Dietetic Association Vegetarian Nutrition (VN) Evidenced-Based Nutrition Practice Guideline. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association.
American Heart Association Nutrition Committee (2006). AHA Scientific Statement: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006. Circulation, 114, 82-96. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.176158
Genkinger, J.M. & Koushik, A. (2007). Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk. PLoS Medicine, 4(12), e345. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040345
Kazaks, A.G. & Stern, J.S. (2013). Nutrition and Obesity. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.