Whenever I tell people I'm vegan, one of the most common responses I get is something like, Wow, good for you. I could never do that! I usually tell them that while I also used to think I could never be vegan, as it turned out, going vegan was much, much easier — and selfishly beneficial — than I ever would have imagined. I went vegan for ethical reasons, after I finally faced the video footage of the way animals are used and abused for our consumption. It wasn't until after I made the decision that I found out there were actually a bunch of selfish benefits to being vegan, too.
While I still think the humane and environmental reasons to go vegan are most important, going vegan for its health benefits is great, too — and had I known about some of these potential benefits earlier, I probably would have changed my diet sooner. Whether you're concerned about preventing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and death — or you'd simply like to feel more at home in your own body and in line with your values — there are so many reasons to give a plant-based diet a try.
It's hard to fit them all in one article, but this is my shot at listing what I think are some of the most selfish — and also totally valid — reasons to give going vegan a shot.
You May Experience Less Constipation Or Bloating
You might not be diagnosed as lactose intolerant, but an astonishing three-quarters of us actually lack the enzyme to properly digest cow's milk, and suffer digestively from the stuff. Most people begin to produce less lactase, the enzyme that helps with the digestion of milk, when they stop breastfeeding, around two years old. If our families don't come from someplace that has raised dairy cows for centuries, it's just not in our genetics to be able to process it. An estimated 98 percent of Southeast Asians, 90 percent of Asian-Americans, 74 percent of Native-Americans, 70 percent of African-Americans, and the majority of Jewish, Latino, and Indian people all suffer from lactose intolerance.
I had no idea I was one of them — until I stopped getting bloated or constipated once I went vegan. Just glorious BMs and a happy belly, every day.
You Could Have Clearer Skin
Dairy products are a leading cause of acne, according to a review published in a 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found that certain products, especially cow’s milk, produce and stimulate hormones linked with acne. This study supports previous findings from the Harvard School of Public Health and lots of other studies linking dairy and acne.
I didn't even have acne, but after I went vegan, people suddenly started commenting on my glowing skin nonetheless. I definitely get fewer pimples.
You'll Significantly Lower Your Risk Of Cancer
That it is not common knowledge that a vegan diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer is, to me, criminal. A vast array of studies from top universities and independent researchers have found that eating animal products promotes cancer in many forms. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters, the most common forms being breast, prostate, and colon cancers. A 2014 Harvard study found that just one serving a day of red meat during adolescence was associated with a 22 percent higher risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, and that the same red meat consumption in adulthood was associated with a 13 percent higher risk of breast cancer overall.
In 2006, Harvard researchers published the results of a meta study that looked at 100,000 women aged 26 to 46. Those who had the highest intake of meat and dairy products also had the highest risk of breast cancer (33-36 percent more than those who consumed the least). For men, over 20 studies have established a strong link between prostate cancer and milk consumption. A more recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer, which followed 22,788 lactose intolerant participants from Sweden, showed that low consumption of milk and other dairy products is linked with decreased risks of lung, breast, and ovarian cancers. The World Health Organization declared processed meat a "carcinogen" which increases one's risk of colon or rectum cancer by 18 percent.
A number of hypotheses could explain the connection. First, meat is devoid of fiber and other nutrients that have a protective effect against cancer. Meat also contains animal protein, saturated fat, and, in some cases, carcinogenic compounds such as heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are formed during the processing or cooking. Most meat and dairy also often contains artificial hormones — and always contains sex hormones like estrogen, which increase your cancer risk (more on that in a bit).
You'll Lower Your Risk Of Heart Disease
Kim Williams, MD, a cardiologist and president of the American College of Cardiology, became a vegan in 2003 — the data is that compelling. Decades of scientific study have linked dietary cholesterol and saturated fat to cardiovascular disease — our country’s number-one cause of death, killing nearly 2,200 Americans daily. Saturated fat is present in all meat and fish, even chicken and turkey cooked without the skin. A vegan diet, on the other hand, is devoid of any cholesterol, and is low in saturated fat, therefore lowering your risk of heart disease significantly.
You Won't Be Consuming Dangerous Sex Hormones
The sex hormones progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen are all naturally occurring in animals, whether they've been given artificial hormones or not — so when you eat those animals or their secretions, you're also eating their hormones.
Because dairy cows are kept on sex hormones or pregnant for their entire lives in order to lactate for humans year-round, when you consume dairy, you're also taking in a significant amount of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. We know that an increased exposure to estrogen increases the risk of cancer, and dairy accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of estrogens consumed by humans today. Hormones in milk might also behind the rise of "man boobs:" A 2010 Japanese study found that men's testosterone levels decreased after they began drinking milk. When it comes to non-organic milk, your risks are even higher. In addition to the natural hormones and growth factors produced within a cow’s body, milk contains synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is used in cows to increase the production of milk.
You'll Lower Your Risk Of Diabetes
According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, people who eat high amounts of animal protein are 22 percent more likely to develop diabetes. The American Diabetes Association confirms that a vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes, even reversing the disease in certain patients.
You'll Be Less Antibiotic-Resistant
Factory farms are breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, because farmers rely on antibiotics to keep the animals temporarily alive in horrific living conditions that would otherwise kill them. Roughly 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States each year are given to animals that are used for food, meaning if you eat these products, you run a greater risk of making yourself antibiotic-resistant. For example, Vancomycin, a drug that is known as a “last defense” in fighting the deadly blood infections and pneumonia caused by staphylococcus bacteria, is becoming obsolete because resistant strains have developed in farmed animals who are given the medicine as a growth stimulant. Should you ever need antibiotics, you want them to work.
You'll Lower Your Risk Of Food Poisoning
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 70 percent of food poisoning is caused by contaminated animal flesh. According to a Consumer Reports study, 97 percent of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets is contaminated with bacteria that could make customers sick. Foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. You don't want to be one of them, I'm guessing.
You'll Prolong Your Lifespan
Meat eaters just don't live as long as vegetarians and vegans. According to a study of over 70,000 people published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, vegetarians were 12 percent less likely to have died during a six-year followup period than their meat-eating peers. Vegetarian men live to an average of 83.3 years, compared with non-vegetarian men, who live to an average of 73.8 years. Vegetarian women live to an average of 85.7 years, which is 6.1 years longer than non-vegetarian women, according to the Adventist Health Study-2. Considering the amount you'll also be reducing your risk of all the diseases mentioned above by also going vegan, it is one of the best chances you have to extend your lifespan.
If You Have Migraines, Allergies, Or Asthma, It Will Likely Help
One study removed dairy from the diets of 48 people suffering from either migraines or asthma — and 33 of them reported their condition improved significantly. While more research clearly needs to be done on the topic, anecdotally, many vegans report an improvement not only in digestive issues, but with allergies, asthma, and migraines as well — likely because far more people are lactose intolerant than they realize, and their bodies are constantly inflamed from eating dairy.
Higher Milk Consumption Is Linked To Broken Bones
The dairy industry has done an excellent job of equating milk with strong bones and preventing osteoporosis — but the research doesn't back it up. High cow’s milk intake is actually associated with increased risk for bone fractures (as well as death), according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal. Among women, those who consumed three or more glasses of milk per day had a 60 percent increased risk for developing a hip fracture and a 16 percent increased risk for developing any bone fracture. A different Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk.
Your PMS Will Likely Be Significantly Better
A research study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in February 2008 found that a low-fat, vegan diet significantly reduced pain and PMS for many women. I know that's been the case for me. Not only is my bloating virtually non-existent now, but my cramps are generally milder as well.
Higher Dairy Consumption Is Linked To Parkinson's Disease In Men
A recent study conducted on 7,500 men showed that those who drank more than two glasses of milk a day were twice as likely to develop Parkinson's disease as those who didn't. As in, double. Researchers aren't sure why it increases the risk so dramatically — and only in men — but they think it has something to do with the pesticides present in milk.
It Might Improve Your Relationship With Food & Your Body
As I wrote about in more detail in this piece, for me, going vegan was the only thing that truly reset my relationship with food and my body. Instead of thinking of food as something that would make me fat/thin, healthy/sick — aka about me — things are now very simple. I simply don't eat anything that is the product of animal suffering, and in so doing, my body happens to suffer less. I can feel with more clarity now when I'm full or hungry, and eating isn't about what food will do to me — but rather, what I will allowed to be done to my food. My relationship with my body and food is much healthier and in line with my values as a result.
You'll Feel Slightly Less Helpless About Global Warming
Even the U.N. has said it: "a substantial reduction of [environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products.” Animal agriculture is responsible for 91 percent of rainforest destruction, and depending on which measurements you go by, anywhere between 14 percent and 51 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. One hamburger takes as much water to make as you use in two months worth of showering, and animal waste is a leading cause of environmental pollution and fossil fuel use.
Simply put, in a world where we feel powerless to prevent global warming, one of the most powerful things we could collectively do would be to stop using animals for food.
It's A Giant F-U To Trump
Related to the item above, if you feel like President Trump doesn't speak for you, one simple way to protest him and his policies every day is to opt out of animal products. You'll be doing your part to prevent global warming, and you will also be fighting against the exploitation of migrant workers and people in low-income communities, who suffer most at the hands of an industry that profits off their labor and land. While plant-agriculture can also certainly exploit migrant workers, the factory farming industry is ranked one of the most dangerous jobs for worker injury, illness, and trauma. Working in a slaughterhouse is one of the most traumatizing jobs you could possibly have — and it is immigrants and the poorest among us who are left to do our dirty work.
You Might Feel Like Less Of A Hypocrite
This is a less tangible benefit, perhaps, but it is real. While being vegan is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card for caring about all of the world's many problems, it is a simple thing that you can do every day to reduce your carbon footprint and live more humanely.
I didn't even know I was carrying around the weight of my disconnect between my values and the way I was eating — until they were finally in line, and I felt lighter.
You'll Probably Have More Love For All Animals
Before I became vegan, I actually didn't even consider myself much of an "animal person." Once I stopped eating them, however, I felt my heart open up completely. I visited animal sanctuaries and met the animals rescued from slaughterhouses. I was forever changed looking into a cow's big, kind eyes; realizing pigs loved their tummies rubbed, just like dogs. As Franz Kafka said of looking at a fish after he became a vegetarian, "Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore." Because I see all animals as equally worthy of freedom and life now, we are friends.
... And Maybe More Love For Human Animals, Too
Human animals suffer too, that's for sure — and being vegan has only made me generally feel more compassion for that fact. Sure, things get frustrating sometimes when I see us perpetuating the cycle of violence as a society, but in general, I find I see the animal in all of us more clearly now. We all want the same things: love, freedom, food, shelter. The violence in the world, I believe, can be distilled to the fact that too many of us lack one or more of those basic needs.
Going vegan was so much easier than I thought it would be that it has empowered me to be more active about seeing what other everyday things I can do to help humans, animals, and the environment. I only buy ethically-made clothes and products now, and try to otherwise be a more responsible consumer and person every day. Realizing this was always possible — and that I myself had this much capacity to change the way I see the world and behave — gives me hope for all of our capacities to live in peace one day. And selfishly, that feels nice.