There are millions of articles on the Health Benefits of a plant-based diet. But there are even more articles on how delicious meats and dairy products are. Images of juicy steaks, sizzling ribs, sausages (and maybe if you are lucky, a dash of green smothered in a sauce) makes eating healthily a challenge. I began integrating more plant-based foods into my diet a few months ago and have not regretted it since. The benefits were visible within weeks, however, I have not completely cut meat from my diet.

Instead, I decided to gradually integrate more vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits into my diet because a plant-based diet does not have to mean becoming a full-on Vegetarian right away.

Is meat that bad for you?

I could go on about the personal benefits I have had from consuming less meat but science might be more persuasive. A World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2015 concluded that meats like beef and steak are "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" which means that consuming them can increase your risk of cancer.

They also concluded that processed meats like bacon and salami that go through a salting, curing, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or preservation are also carcinogenic and have the same effect as red meat. Some experts purport that eating as little as two slices of bacon a day can increase the risk of bowel cancer by approximately 20 percent, and a diet high in red meat can also cause kidney failure and heart disease.

Red meat is not the sole culprit that poses a health risk. Eating all kinds of meat is a threat, including white meat.

Many people fall into the lesser evil trap, thinking white meat is somehow healthier than red meat. This has led to an increase in the consumption of chicken which health experts are saying is causing an excess protein problem. Although protein is an important part of a healthy diet, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average American consumes about 25 grams more than they should on a daily basis. This excess protein causes weight gain, extra body fat and stresses the kidneys.

This increase not only damages our health but the environment as well. Furthermore, meats these days are often filled with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that introduce foreign chemicals into your body that are not easily broken down and are filled with hormones that cause health problems.

The benefits of a plant-based diet

The Daily Mail reports in a new study that "dieters are twice as likely to lose weight if they follow a vegetarian diet." In addition, a plant-based diet lowers the risk of heart disease, inflammation, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Plants are also a rich source of key nutrients, including unsaturated fats, fiber, minerals, and protein and will naturally decrease the levels of inflammation in the body. This is because plants are higher in fiber and antioxidants, leading to less mucus build up. Mucus buildup is considered to be one of the main causes of inflammation in the body.

Another benefit is your digestive health. Plant foods nourish the digestive system and are much easier to process than meat. The fiber in plants promotes healthy enzymes in your gut and makes it less likely to develop cancerous cells.

Plant protein dramatically lessens the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and can even reverse the impact if you are already affected. For the naysayers who are concerned about the quantity of protein to be had with a plant-based diet, all it takes is some imagination. A cup of cooked chickpeas contain 22g of plant protein and is also a great source of vitamins and folate. Potatoes, seeds, and nuts are other good sources of protein and can provide up to 7g of protein per serving. These are some examples of how plants can provide the protein you need without the necessity of meat.

A plant-based diet not only benefits the human body directly but the environment as well. This is because animal agriculture is a major contributor to the emission of greenhouses gases and consumes a great percentage of the earth’s natural resources. In the U.S alone, a pound of beef requires about 2,000 gallons of water. Equally as alarming are the savage conditions under which these animals are raised and the distress they undergo before they become the enjoyable cut of meat.

Is there a middle ground?

Even though a high intake of meat -- processed and unprocessed -- is dangerous, adopting a vegetarian diet can be daunting.

Admittedly, I had chicken for lunch recently but that was after a week of only plant-based foods. For those who have been eating meat all their lives, cutting out meat in one go is not the best option. There is no need to dive in 100 percent immediately. Taking smaller steps will get you there just as well and even more successfully. One way to do this is by gradually adding more vegetables to your diet on a consistent basis to acclimate your taste buds. For example, add a salad to your meal or add some lentils when making your favorite tacos. Another way to wean off meat is to alternate your meat to plant intake.

Apart from the obvious health benefits, your skin will love you for it. In my case, I have noticed a decrease in acne breakouts and a healthier glow. Another benefit is an increase in energy levels since your body is not weighed down from trying to process the heavy meat products.

What is the next step?

If you decide to follow a vegetarian lifestyle, it will require some work like everything else. However, with adequate planning and the requisite commitment to your health, it will become second nature. I would suggest a middle ground to guarantee greater success with your vegetarian journey. Acquiring the taste for plants and beans may not be as exciting as a juicy steak at first.

But by doing your research and experimenting with new recipes, it may surprise you. There are many ways to prepare plant-based meals that can rival any meat-based meal. And the internet is your best friend in this regard. So go forth and get healthy without sacrificing the delicious flavors you are used to.

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