Almost everyone with healthy urges has seriously contemplated the meatless life at one time or another. If you've hesitated out of concern for your burger-loving, deprivation-hating body, don't worry. Nothing dramatic is going to happen biochemically.
Of course, "nothing dramatic" doesn't mean you won't benefit. Check it out:
You may lose a few pounds.
Going green tends to lead to a lighter you—even if shedding pounds isn't the original goal for going vegetarian.
You may gain some healthy bacteria in your gut—and some bloat, at least at first.
Your body has digestive enzymes that handle the proteins in both meat and plants, and that doesn't change when you stop eating meat. However, all the indigestible carbohydrates in plant protein sources and other plant-based foods can alter the bacterial profile in your intestines. And researchers believe the new carbs can help boost the population of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Because it can take some time for your intestinal tract to adapt to its new residents, you can initially feel gassy and bloated. But with patience, you'll adapt. Plus, plant-based diets have been shown to lower the risk for various chronic diseases along with waist size.
You may protect yourself from heart disease.
Several large studies involving more than 76,000 men and women have compared vegetarians and non-vegetarians with similar lifestyles. The results demonstrate that death from ischemic heart disease (caused by severe narrowing or closing of the coronary arteries) was 24% lower in vegetarians than in carnivores. Plant-based diets have been proven time and again to be anti-inflammatory.
You may lose your taste. And not just for red meat.
Zinc is a biochemical heavy lifter, performing loads of functions within the body, including giving the immune system a boost. But the mineral, plentiful in oysters and red meat, is also crucial for taste and hearing. One study revealed that zinc deficiency is a predominant factor behind taste impairment. While beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy products all provide some zinc, the phytic acid in whole grains, seeds, beans, and legumes can interfere with zinc absorption. As a result, vegetarians might need as much as 50% more zinc than carnivores. The recommended daily target for women is 8 milligrams, which means you might want to shoot for at least 12 mg.
Your muscles may need more time to recover.
Protein is essential for building muscle, maintaining it, and repairing it post-workout. That part's non-negotiable, but the source of your protein is. Animal or plant protein works—the latter just takes a little longer to get the job done. Make a smoothie with coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, rice milk, or soy milk, and add carbohydrates in the form of fresh fruit to replenish your glycogen stores, which your body uses for energy, post-workout.
You may need to supplement. But not a lot.
Studies suggest that vegetarians tend to get the same amount of iron as carnivores. They also do okay on calcium and even vitamin B12, which is essential for proper nerve function. But if you're worried about any of these nutrients—including zinc, mentioned above—you may want to supplement.
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