In the 1960s, vegetarianism was one of the fads embraced by young people as part of the "hippie" movement, which looked to Eastern philosophies and practices to add new meaning to a society that appeared increasingly materialistic and unthinking. Since then, however, a vegetarian diet has gained both popularity and medical backing as a healthy way to eat, and people of all ages now follow this type of diet in whole or in part. Whether you want to "go all the way" or just eat vegetarian part of the time, there are many reasons why it's a good idea.

1. Lose Weight

A healthy vegetarian diet can help you lose weight because meat and meat products are some of the most calorie-dense foods in the typical American diet. Take a burger, for example: the standard Big Mac weighs in at about 540 calories; add 150 more if it includes cheese. And we haven't even gotten to the sugary drinks and shakes you'll drink to wash it down.  The saturated fat content, however, is where the weight adds up; the burger contains 29 grams, almost the entire day's recommended allocation of saturated fat. Contrast this meal with a similar sandwich made with a veggie burger; already you are eating about 150 fewer calories and only 1 or 2 grams of saturated fat. While you can certainly eat a fattening vegetarian diet by loading your plate with cheese and eggs, a balanced vegetarian meal is going to be less fattening on the whole. To build a vegetarian diet that helps you lose weight, follow the guidelines of "The Portion Plate" and divide your plate into sections for whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and other protein sources such as beans.

2. Reduce Disease

According to the Mayo Clinic, "people who eat only plant-based foods — aka vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do." Vegetarians also have a lower incidence of some types of cancer, have generally lower blood pressure, and may be less susceptible to type 2 diabetes. One reason for all these health effects is that fresh fruits and vegetables contain more antioxidants, which fight cancer by removing free radicals from the body; these are atoms with unpaired electrons which can damage DNA and contribute to tumor growth if unchecked.

3. Help the Planet

It's a fact that feeding animals grain and plants and then butchering them for meat is a very inefficient way to use our plant's resources. If more people simply ate a plant-based diet instead, we'd reduce the carbon emissions from fossil fuels used to cook all that meat, reduce the methane produced by all those animals, and be able to feed more people. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of edible flesh. That same 16 pounds of grain could feed many more people. The WorldWatch Institute contends that if Americans reduced their intake of meat by just 10 percent, "that would free up enough land, water and energy from growing livestock feed to adequately feed 40 million starving people."

Try it for a month; a vegetarian diet is varied, tasty and nutritious, so the best reason for making the switch is because it tastes good! You'll find yourself exploring new food avenues and getting healthier in the process.

Fruits and Vegetables(68641)
Credit: Suat Eman