5 Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

PHOTO: A vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of heart disease.
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Even if you're not interested in becoming a vegetarian or vegan, there are plenty of reasons to up your intake of plant-based meals. In my private practice, more of my clients are experimenting with meatless cuisine than ever before, and they're reaping the rewards. Here are five powerful benefits to embracing your inner herbivore–even part-time.

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Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

Weight loss

In an Oxford University study of nearly 38,000 adults, researchers found that meat-eaters tended to have the highest body mass index (BMI) for their age and vegans the lowest, with vegetarians and semi-vegetarians in between. Another published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared over 10,000 vegetarians and nonvegetarians, and found that BMI values were higher in nonvegetarians in all age groups for both genders. In addition, weight gain over a 5-year period was lowest among people who adopted a diet containing fewer animal foods.

The reason? Plant-based meals tend to be richer in antioxidants and fiber, which are both tied to weight loss, and researchers have seen an increase in calorie burn after vegan meals. Just be sure your veggie-derived meals are made from whole, nutrient-rich foods, not processed "junk food" like vegan versions of hot dogs, cookies, and donuts.

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Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

Better health

A study out this year, the largest yet to compare heart disease rates between vegetarians and meat eaters, found that a vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of heart disease (the No.1 killer of both men and women) by a third. Another 2013 study, from researchers at Loma Linda University, followed over 70,000 adults in their mid to upper 50s, and found that over a six year period, the death rate from all causes was 12 percent lower for vegetarians than for meat eaters. And according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, vegetarian and vegan diets significantly reduce cancer risk, including stomach, colon, pancreatic, breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.

In addition to these long-term health benefits, I've seen immediate improvements among my clients in cholesterol profiles, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, immunity, and digestive health. Many have also reported fewer aches and pains, likely due to the anti-inflammatory effect of consuming more plant foods, which may also fight aging, as well as conditions like Alzheimer's.

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Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

Improve your mood

In addition to transforming your body, eating more plants can have a powerful impact on your mind. In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, nearly 300 young adults completed daily food diaries for three weeks, which included mood ratings. Scientists found that a higher intake of produce resulted in more energy, calmness, and greater feelings of happiness, effects that positively impacted the volunteers not only on the days they ate fruits and veggies, but also throughout the following day.

According to the latest data, roughly 75 percent of Americans fall short of the minimum recommended five daily servings of produce. Eating more plant-based meals can help fill the gap, and then some.

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Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

Look better

In my previous post about how to get gorgeous skin, I shared research about how a higher intake of produce can literally create a healthy glow, because antioxidants improve circulation, and alter skin pigment.

Eating more fresh, raw veggies can also help you avoid nasty substances called advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs, which are produced when food is cooked to high temperatures using dry heat. AGEs have been tied to premature aging, wrinkles, and in a recent animal study, an increase in belly fat.

Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

Better sex

Eating more veggie-based meals can help you shrink your shape, and studies show that losing just 10 pounds is enough to boost sex hormones and improve your love life. In addition, the most powerful libido-boosting foods are plant-based (check out our list of libido-boosting foods). And avoiding meat may be the key to improving your "aromatic appeal."

A Czech study compared body odor pads collected from meat-eating and non-meat eating men, and found that samples from the latter group were rated as significantly more attractive and pleasant.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's Health's contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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