This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
Many people have started committing to an exclusively plant-based diet during the month of January, otherwise known as Veganuary. Some are motivated to adopt these diets due to the mistreatment of animals and the environmental impacts of eating meat, but health is also one notable aspect.
From breakfast to dinner, meat is often the centrepiece of many meals. But if you're not paying attention, you may eat more meat than what's recommended.
Is eating meat good for you, or is it damaging to your health? While eating meat in moderation can actually be healthy, the short and long-term health benefits of giving up meat should also be considered.
Short-term effects of giving up meat
While you might not realize it, your body changes within the first few hours after cutting out meat.
After a few hours to a day without meat
A meatless diet often features more significant amounts of other essential food groups, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. These foods are rich in fibre.
As soon as you eat, your body signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin's purpose is to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar during digestion.
Foods high in dietary fibre begin assisting healthy digestion right away by slowing down the amount of sugar your blood takes in. Therefore, your body may not need to produce as much insulin to regulate blood sugar as what would've been needed with a diet high in meat but low in fibre. This is important if you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and can't produce insulin or can't produce enough.
After a few days without meat
People making changes to their diet by introducing meat alternatives or other new food groups are likely to experience some digestive consequences. That dietary fibre that helps blood sugar maintenance has another benefit you'll probably notice after a few days of giving up meat: More regular bowel movements.
An increase in dietary fibre, whether soluble or insoluble, from a vegetarian or vegan diet produces positive changes to the quality and frequency of your bowel movements. Soluble fibre promotes easier defecating with healthy stool formation and texture, while insoluble fibre helps you "go" more regularly.
After one week without meat
One of the most significant benefits of giving up meat occurs after only a week without it: Lowered cholesterol. Elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels are associated with negative health benefits, perhaps the most important of which is the increased risk of heart disease.
While not all meats are known to cause high cholesterol, red meat is one of the worst offenders, since it typically has high levels of saturated fats. By switching to a meatless diet, you can reduce your intake of both cholesterol and saturated fat.
A diet that is heavily reliant on plants naturally avoids introducing elements like cholesterol and saturated fat because they are less prevalent in these foods. The soluble fibre in plants also helps reduce high cholesterol levels by slowing the rate at which our bodies absorb cholesterol — similar to how fibre slows the rate we absorb sugar.
Long-term effects of giving up meat
While there are some short-term benefits to giving up meat, don't fret if you fail to see or feel other positive changes as soon as you'd like. Be patient, as it typically can take one to several months before you start noticing more favourable outcomes.
After one month and beyond without meat
After a month of giving up meat, you may start to see and feel differences due to your new diet. However, these benefits will likely solidify and become more apparent if you continue this diet for months or even years.
These are some of the primary benefits you can observe around this time:
A healthier gut: While meat is associated with the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut, a diet devoid of meat is associated with positive bacterial growth. In short, a healthier gut may lead to a better immune system and may even prevent some cancers.
Improved skin: Individuals who rely on a plant-based diet typically eat more fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamins C, E and A. These vitamins help to fight free radicals on your skin which, left unchecked, can lead to acne and other unsightly blemishes.
Weight loss: There's a connection between vegan or vegetarian diets and weight loss. When you stop eating meat, you may notice your waistline getting smaller after a month or more. However, a well-balanced, consistent diet along with regular exercise can also contribute to weight loss.
Reduced levels of inflammation: A meatless diet has been observed to reduce inflammation in the body, which can be especially beneficial for individuals with autoimmune disorders.
While you may feel and see positive health changes after a month of no meat, you'll likely get the most out of these benefits when you eat a healthy, well-rounded diet.
The benefits of giving up meat
If you're participating in Veganuary this year or transitioning to a more long-term diet of less or no meat consumption, you could experience several significant health benefits within a few short hours. Keeping up with your new dietary routine may lead to even more promising results.
However, it's worth noting that if you stop eating meat and switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet, you'll likely need to work harder to get some essential nutrients, including calcium, protein, iron, vitamin B12, iodine and vitamin D from other food sources or supplements. This may mean thinking more critically about what you're eating.