Ditching steaks and burgers in favour of a vegetarian lifestyle may have crossed your mind for ethical reasons or because of health concerns. But what actually happens to your body when you stop eating meat?
A team at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, USA recently tried to pinpoint how much weight a person loses if they switch from being a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian.
The study, which reviewed previous studies and was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that participants who cut meat out of their diets lost around 10 pounds on average without monitoring their calorie intake or increasing the amount they exercised.
"The take-home message is that a plant-based diet can help you lose weight without counting calories and without ramping up your exercise routine," Neal Barnard, M.D., lead author of the study and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University, said at the time.
You are what you eat, and that relates to your digestive system as much as any other part of your body.
A 2014 study exploring the difference between the gut bacteria found in non-vegetarians, vegans and vegetarians found differences in all three. However, the biggest variation was between non-vegetarians and vegans, who don’t consume any animal products whatsoever. Researchers at City University of New York found that vegans had more protective species of gut bacteria.
A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can provide enough nutrients with enough planning. But it can be harder to get enough iron and Vitamins B12 and D, according to the National Health Service (NHS), UK.
The body recommends eating plenty of pulses, such as beans and lentils, nuts, fruits, dark green vegetables, whole grains, and cereals with fortified irons to get enough iron. Vitamin B12 can be found in yeast extract products such as fortified breakfast cereals and soya products. Eggs, fortified fat spreads, cereals and some types of milk can be a source of Vitamin D.
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report classed processed meats as carcinogenic, and so products such as bacon and salami found themselves categorised alongside formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Red meat was also labelled as "probably" having cancer causing properties.
Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon a day – increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded. However, others believe the risk is not as serious as that.
Scientists recently found that red meat is linked to heart disease. A study by Lerner Research Institute in the US showed that carnitine, a nutrient found in the meat, sets off gut microbe reactions that contribute to the development of heart disease.
"This adds to the growing body of data reinforcing a connection between red meat, carnitine ingestion and heart disease development," said lead author Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of Translational Research for the Lerner Research Institute and Section Head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation, according to a report by the Cleveland Health Clinic.