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Wealth of Geeks
October 1st is World Vegetarian Day and the annual kick-off of Vegetarian Awareness Month. The annual event was established by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 to promote the vegetarian lifestyle and its positive impacts on human health, animal welfare, and the environment.
This year’s World Vegetarian Day arrives amid growing interest in plant-based eating. According to a recent survey, approximately 4% of Americans consider themselves vegetarians, and 1% consider themselves vegans.
Advocates point to plant-based diets as a way to address several worldwide problems. Vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Switching to plant-based eating can also curb greenhouse gas emissions and stem biodiversity loss.
“World Vegetarian Day is a chance to celebrate the immense benefits of eating more plants,” says Whitney English, MS, RD and co-founder of Plant-Based Juniors. “Swapping in more meatless meals is a simple way to take action, and these baby steps can lead to better health and new eating habits over time.”
The Cancer and Diet Connection
Current evidence from observational studies indicates that there is a decreased risk of overall cancer when consuming a plant-based diet. This is likely related to the fact that plant-based foods contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals— nutrients that could potentially keep cells healthy and decrease the risk of the type of DNA damage to cells that can become a problem in cancer development.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) promotes the New American Plate, a plant-predominant approach that focuses on eating sensible servings of a variety of whole foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans—that are high in nutritional value and low in calories.
Studies suggest that eating whole soy foods, such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk, may reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. As a nutrient-dense source of protein, soy provides additional health benefits, especially when eaten as an alternative to processed meats.
Less Meat for Heart Health
Vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Enjoying meat-free meals on October 1st– and all month long– is an easy way to celebrate while boosting personal health.
The United States has experienced stagnant growth in life expectancy since 2010, and cardiovascular disease is considered one of the main reasons. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. One person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 5 American deaths and a large economic burden– roughly $240 billion is spent annually on healthcare services, medicine, and lost productivity. And heart disease is largely preventable. Poor diet and physical inactivity are major risk factors for developing heart disease.
Recently, the American Heart Association (AHA) released an updated algorithm for evaluating cardiovascular health, looking specifically at diet, physical activity, body mass index (BMI), and other health risks such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Building off of Life’s Essential 8, the American Heart Association put forth specific recommendations for lowering heart disease risk. The necessary first steps focus on diet: incorporating whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, heart-healthy oils such as olive and canola, and lean protein sources, especially plant-based sources such as tofu.
Tofu is heart-protective. English shares, “Tofu is naturally lower in saturated fat, a fat associated with increased risk of heart disease. Swapping in tofu for high-saturated fat foods, like red meat and processed meats, is a simple heart-healthy choice.”
She continues, “Tofu is a significant source of isoflavones, plant compounds with cardiovascular benefits. Medical research conducted in 2019 suggests that isoflavones may help improve blood vessel function, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure, all contributing to a healthier cardiovascular system.”
To reduce the risk of heart disease and increase longevity, the message is clear–diets rich in plant-based proteins, especially tofu, are helpful.
What Tofu Is Best?
Tofu is an incredibly versatile ingredient that comes in many varieties depending on the desired preparation. Thankfully, it’s easy to incorporate tofu into everyday American dishes like tacos without compromising nutrition, as tofu is rich in unsaturated fats, calcium, and protein.
In most recipes, you’ll use organic extra firm tofu nearly identical to how you cook meat. Remove from the package, then marinate with your favorite sauce to pan-fry or grill, stir-fry with veggies as you would, chicken or beef, or crumble cold onto salads for a delicious protein boost.