Following a vegan or vegetarian diet is an effective and powerful way to take control of your health. Healthy and well-balanced plant-based diets support a lifetime of good health and provide protection against numerous diseases that affect the Latino community, including four of the biggest killers: heart disease, cancer, strokes, and diabetes.
By switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can decrease the risk of the following:
The obesity rate among Latinos in the United States is higher than ever, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos have the second-highest obesity prevalence among adults. After breaking down the numbers and examining the obesity epidemic in more depth, the problem is particularly troubling for Mexican-Americans. A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health showed the following:
- Among Mexican-American women, 78 percent are overweight or obese, compared to 60.3 percent of non-Hispanic white women.
- In 2010, Hispanic Americans were 1.2 times likelier to be obese than non-Hispanic whites.
- In 2007-2008, Mexican-American children were 1.4 times likelier to be overweight than non-Hispanic white children.
- In 2007-2010, Mexican-American women were 40 percent likelier to be overweight than non-Hispanic whites.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to lose weight by eating healthy plant based foods. Animal products contain much more fat than plant-based foods. Because vegetarian diets work for long-term weight loss, it’s no surprise that population studies show that meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times the obesity rate of vegans. It’s possible to be an overweight or obese vegan, of course, just as it’s possible to be a thin meat-eater, but adult vegans are, on average, 10 to20 pounds lighter than adult meat-eaters.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 40 percent of all cancers are preventable, and the American Cancer Society reports that one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States can be attributed to nutritional factors.
A vegan diet maximizes the intake of foods that help us fight cancer—fiber-packed grains and beans and phytochemical-packed fruits and vegetables—and eliminates the foods that promote cancer. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this means that vegetarians “are about 40 percent less likely to get cancer than nonvegetarians, regardless of other risks such as smoking, body size, and socioeconomic status.”
Heart disease is the number one health problem in the United States today, and according to the American Heart Association, it is the single leading cause of death. Most heart disease is diet-related—caused by diets high in animal products.
Meat, eggs, and dairy products are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. (No plant food in the world contains any cholesterol.) As these fatty substances build up inside the walls of arteries as “plaque,” blood flow to all areas of the body is impeded. This artery damage is called “atherosclerosis.” When too little blood reaches various regions of the body, normal bodily functions are impaired, setting people up for a number of diseases, most notably heart disease.
Here’s the good news: Now that we know what heightens the risk of heart attacks, we can take steps to prevent them. Studies have shown that a healthy vegan diet—rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—can stop and even reverse heart disease. People following a plant-based diet have 2.5 times fewer cardiac events, including heart attacks, strokes, bypass surgery, and angioplasty.
According to the American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes is an urgent health problem in the Latino community. Their rates of diabetes are almost double those of non-Latino whites.” The Office of Minority Health has stated that Mexican Americans “are 50% more likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.”
While the impact of diabetes is staggering, the great news is that diabetes can largely be prevented or controlled through lifestyle changes—namely, a healthy plant-based diet and exercise. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that one of the most effective ways to prevent or treat diabetes is to consume more vegetables, beans, and whole grains while eating less animal flesh. Numerous studies have found that adopting a vegetarian diet improves diabetics’ health and reduces the risk of developing the disease in the first place!
Strokes/High Blood Pressure
Going meat-free can reduce your risk of suffering from strokes. Researchers have found that a pure vegetarian diet is the only lifestyle change that has been consistently shown to reverse atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries that often causes strokes and heart attacks. In fact, while the average cholesterol level in the U.S. is 210 (10 points above the health risk threshold set by the American Heart Association), the average vegetarian’s cholesterol level is 161, and the average vegan’s cholesterol level is 133.
Vegetarians and vegans also tend to have significantly lower blood pressure than meat-eaters do, which makes them far less likely to suffer from strokes. Researchers who tracked 72,000 women over a period of 14 years have confirmed that those who adhered to diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains were less likely to suffer from strokes in comparison with those who ate the typical American diet, heavy with meat, dairy products, and eggs.