If you are like most people right now, you’re looking for ways to boost immunity, lower inflammation and get healthier in light of the spreading coronavirus. One way is to eat more vegetables, fruits, and get more exercise. But the other is by stopping eating meat and dairy (or at least cutting way back), since COVID-19 has shed light on the fact that inflammation can lead to complications of the virus, and studies have connected meat-eating with higher inflammation. The meat industry especially has taken a beating during coronavirus, as tens of thousands of workers have been getting sick and consumers are eating more plant-based foods. If you’re one of them or need more reasons to ditch meat this month, here are the top 10 reasons to cut out meat and dairy. Consider this your Declaration of Independence from animal products that could be making you sick, now or later.

Side note: The actual Declaration was not signed on July 4, 1776. Independence was formally declared on July 2, 1776, a date that John Adams believed would be “the most memorable … in the history of America.” On July 4, 1776, Congress approved the final text of the Declaration (as an editor, I get that this can take a couple of days). But the Declaration wasn’t signed until August 2, 1776, according to Constitutionfacts.org. So consider this Declaration Month: you have till August to get your independence act together. What are you striving to get free of? Give yourself the next three weeks to be free of foods that make you sick.

Declare your independence from meat and dairy from now until August 2nd and see how you feel. Do it for your health, do it for the planet, do it for the welfare of farmed animals, or any other reason you feel like (maybe you just like Harry Styles) since it’s a win across the board. Here is my hope for you: Try it, and see how your body reacts. For me, now that I don’t eat meat and dairy (or poultry, fish, or eggs) I feel so much better.

The 180 on Meat and Dairy: It Increases Risk of Disease, Study After Study Has Shown

Meat used to be considered healthy, essential for protein and building strong muscles. Now we know it’s full of antibiotics, causes inflammation, and meat’s saturated fat leads to heart disease, while studies show that people who eat more red meat have a higher incidence of certain cancers, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

The same is true of dairy: Milk used to be considered necessary for calcium, to build strong bones. Now we know dairy, and especially cheese, contains elevated estrogens and doctors want it to come with warning labels that it promotes breast, and other hormonally driven cancers like uterine, and prostate cancer.

Whereas the flip side is true: Eating more whole-food, plant-based diet, full of fiber and antioxidants, lowers your risks of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and breast cancer while boosting your immune system. You reduce your risk of dying prematurely from all causes, a study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found. Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of not only heart disease but “all causes of mortality” the study concluded.

Here are the top 10 reasons to declare YOUR independence from meat and dairy, and why you will benefit from trying to eat plant-based (or mostly so) for the next three weeks. Write your own Declaration of Independence, and you can decide whether to sign it later.

1. Eating a diet of plant-based foods boosts your immunity, helpful against coronavirus.

With 3 million cases of COVID-19 in the US and the number climbing daily, the best defense is a good defense. Meaning your immune system’s ability to play whack-a-mole with any foreign invader that may get in.

There are known benefits to eating a diet high in vitamin-packed foods full of C, A, E, D, B, and minerals like zinc, iron as well as potassium and calcium. Plant-based foods like deep leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and seeds are full of these essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that supply the body with the building blocks of your immune systems’ defenses.

You will never need to take vitamin C if you eat a red bell pepper a day since it packs three times the vitamin C as an orange. Start your day with hot water with lemon and get 1/3 of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C for the day. Eat a large vegetable-filled salad for lunch, and get several greens for dinner, and you’ll never feel tired or sluggish after a meal. Nature’s fast food is a piece of fruit. Eat a peach, an apple or a plum for slow-burning clean energy. To fight off all viruses, COVID-19 included, keep your body in the best shape possible, inside and out, by getting sleep, exercising daily and eating plant-based foods.

The list of Immunity boosting foods is so long, we chose the top 13, but when you look at a farm stand, bets are on that you could find immune-boosting phytochemicals or antioxidant or vitamin or mineral, from A to Zinc, that will help your body fight off the virus. Here is the story on the Top 13 Foods to Eat to Boost Immunity Now. One favorite: Mushrooms.

2. Eating a mostly whole food plant-based diet helps you lose weight.

Studies show that those who eat a low-carb, vegan, or plant-based diet have a smaller waist circumference than those who don’t and that the most dramatic weight loss has been found among people who adopt a vegan diet. “Obese participants found the most pronounced effect on weight loss [from] a vegan diet.” Meanwhile, over the course of months, the most dramatic health benefits also come from a vegan diet. So it’s a win-win across the board.

There is no question that nutrient-dense food such as vegetables and fruit will help you lose weight. When you fill-up on fiber and vegetables–which are made up of water more than any other molecule–you get satisfied with fewer calories, and your body burns off these calories quicker than calorie-dense foods full of fat, added sugar, simple carbs, and chemicals. Try the VegStart Diet for a weight-loss plan you can live with. It will teach you how to prepare and create meals that are delicious, filling, and help you lose weight naturally.

3. Eating plant-based and ditching meat and dairy reduces your risk of heart disease

There are so many studies to support the fact that a plant-based diet is beneficial for your heart. Respected heart doctors like Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn, Joel Kahn and Joel Furhman, Andrew Freeman, who calls himself the Vegan Cardiologist, and T. Colin Campbell who is co-author of The China Study, all tell us that science backs up the fact that red meat adds to coronary heart disease while a diet rich in plants can reverse symptoms of heart disease.

Consider this recent study, for one: “Plant-based diets are associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids, and reduced platelet aggregation than non-vegetarian diets, and are beneficial in weight management, reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Well planned vegetarian diets provide benefits in preventing and reversing atherosclerosis and in decreasing CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors and should be promoted through dietary guidelines and recommendations.”

And these are doctors, recommending to other doctors, that we should all eat plant-based.

Meanwhile, in a story that is intended to lay for rest once and for all the dangers of saturated fat, found in animal products, especially meat and dairy, along with tropical oils, Dr. Joel Kahn wants the public to understand there is no debate here. This whole “butter is back” reasoning is ill-founded, he wrote. Butter is not back. Meat is also off the plate, as is poultry. The best heart-healthy fats are those that come from plants you could grow: Avocado, Olive, Nuts, and Seeds. Better yet limit the oil altogether. But if you need oil for cooking, make sure it’s not derived from something that walks. Your heart will thank you. While you’re avoiding sat fat, stay away from coconut and palm oils, since they contain it as well.

4. Declaring your independence from meat can lower your grocery bills by $23 a week.

We have heard it over and over again: Eating plant-based or vegan is expensive. It’s elite, It’s for people who shop at Whole Foods. Well here is some news for you: It’s actually cheaper. the priciest item in your cart is likely to be meat, followed closely by sugar. There’s a reason that the entire world subsists very healthily on rice and beans. Meat used to be a sign of prosperity in many cultures. People ate meat to show that they were rich.

In a study that tracked the shopping receipts of nearly 1,100 meat-eaters versus nonmeat eaters, the authors found that those who eat vegan or skip meat saved an average of $23 on their grocery store every week. That adds up to $23 a week, multiplied times four, and you have yourself an extra C-note per month to spend on whatever you like. May we suggest a new bathing suit to show off your super svelte physique from your plant-based VegStart Diet?

5. Eating a diet high in fiber-filled plant foods reduces your risk of cancer

You never want to think that something you did “gave” your cancer. That’s just the wrong way to consider risk factors. But you can lower your risk of getting cancer by not smoking, not sunbathing or using tanning beds, and not eating meat, dairy, or animal products. That is what we are learning from studies on cancer risk and diet that review large swaths of the population over decades and report on eating habits and cancer incidents. Consider this like the 70s. After more smokers got lung disease, warning labels were put on cigarettes. Now the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants to see labels on cheese: That the estrogens in dairy can contribute to a lifetime risk of breast cancer.

In several studies, those who ate the least meat and dairy and ate the most plant-based foods over the years also had the lowest cancer risk. You don’t smoke; quit meat and dairy.

Fiber appears to be the magic pill. Women who ate the most fiber had the best chance of avoiding breast cancer, likely because a high fiber diet also keeps weight in check and clears out the digestive system so toxins have less time to linger in the body. In one study, the more often you go to the bathroom, the less the “waste” has a chance to be reabsorbed where toxins get stored in breast tissue, creating more risk for future cancer to form. The Beet covered this in our story about the healthiest “elimination” habits. The more often the better.

For male readers, note this: There is often a correlation between breast cancer and other hormonally sensitive cancers such as prostate cancer. There is still much to be studied; but while research is often focused on breast cancer, studies on meat, dairy, and other cancers. Studies confirm a link between meat-eating and colorectal cancer. So do yourself a favor and eat more plant-based foods to avoid an elevated risk of any cancer.

6. Eating less meat and dairy won’t make you feel sluggish or have dark circles

That sluggish feeling after a big meal of meat can be a sign that your body has trouble digesting meat, which can slow down in your intestines and cause fatigue as your body works harder to digest your food.

Other signs your body isn’t digesting meat properly, according to experts: Dark circles. You may not be tired or have to live with dark circles. Cut out meat and see if they improve. This is because as the animal product gets stuck in your intestines “the compromised gut lining allows meat particles to pass through the gut wall” and into the bloodstream where they are regarded as “foreign” invaders, according to a medical paper from Geelong Medical Health Center. “The body will try to produce antibodies to eliminate the foreign substance, and the reaction to this can be dark circles under the eyes, a symptom which is usually overlooked by health professionals.” Skip the meat and see if your dark circles disappear.

Other symptoms you are not digesting meat properly: Bad breath, body odor, constipation, and fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms after eating meat, declare your independence from animal products for three weeks and see how you feel.

7. Declare your independence from meat to perform like your favorite artist or athlete

Joaquin Phoenix, Harry Styles, Harrison Ford, Zac Efron, Sir Paul McCartney, Usher and Mike Tyson all have ditched the meat. On the gal’s side of the aisle, it’s Kristen Wiig, Sandra Oh, Miley Cirus, Ariana Grande, the Bailey Sisters, Lizzo, Billey Eilish, and .A$AP Rocky, and Will.I. Am. The list goes on and on and on.

And that doesn’t even include athletes. Novak Djokovic, Arnold Schwartzenegger, and many marathoners and triathletes, endurance athletes who need to be lean and strong and injury-free have all adopted a plant-based lifestyle. So has Lewis Hamilton, Formula One Driver and in the NFL, Cam Newton and Tom Brady and others are playing on plant protein. In the NBA, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan and others are crushing it without eating meat. Again, there are dozens of athletes who have seen their endurance improve on a plant-powered diet. Watch The Game Changers for inspiration and a better understanding of why athletes are increasingly choosing this higher octane fuel choice: To recover faster, fight inflammation, avoid sluggishness, stay light, and avoid injury.

Our admiration for these artists and athletes leaves us thinking: What do they know that we don’t know. Generally, if they are this tuned into the plant-based, vegan or meatless lifestyle, it’s probably because they look better and feel better, and can perform better.

In that case, we’ll have what they’re having.

8. Eating Plant-based is more sustainable for our planet. Lower your impact.

Consider this: Eating just one plant-based meal a day for a year is the equivalent of saving the same carbon emissions as driving across the country, according to science offered by One  Meal a Day, the organization started by Suzy Amis Cameron, activist, author, and actor, and wife of James Cameron, so eating three plant-based meals is like driving from New York to LA and back!

The land use, water use and fossil fuels needed to raise farmed animals is the biggest human contributor to greenhouse gasses that we can control. (There are naturally occurring methane emissions that we can’t control.) So if you want to lower your carbon footprint, along with eyeing and new Tesla for your next ride, or if that isn’t in the budget, just leave the meat and dairy in the grocery store. Already sales of meat are down 18 percent during COVID-19. That may be rough on meat processing companies but it’s much better for the planet, for animals, and for our health.

Even if you’re not ready to go the whole distance, every small step toward a more plant-based diet has a benefit on you and on the planet. For more on how this works, read The Beet’s story: More People Going Mostly Plant-Based Has Vast Climate Benefits

9. Animal welfare. You don’t want to think about it but you can’t unlearn what you know

Once you learn what happens in factory farms, you can’t unwatch it. My education on this began with the documentary What the Health in a scene that showed sick pigs with boils being ready for slaughter. The point was the boil gets into your food. I felt sorry for the pig. In another disturbing video made undercover at Fair Oaks Farms and released last summer, cows and calves were separated at birth, the calves being thrown like sacks of potatoes into pens, the mothers forced into a carousel of milking machinery, punched and prodded and if they hesitated too long, their tails snapped. This is just the “lighter” awful stuff that goes on in factory farms. That farm, Fair Oaks, is owned by Cocacola. I boycotted Diet Coke for months. The companies involved apologized and the authorities “brought charges” against individuals but after watching this video I got the feeling this was more the norm than the exception.

In an interview with The Beet, Nikki Glaser the hilarious comedian and standup goddess talked about her education about animal cruelty and how it upsets her too much to think about it. I think most people I know hate to think about it. Who wants to believe we are capable of hurting animals? It’s not something people like to have brought up over steak. I don’t bring it up. I got into this for health, but as I said, once you see it, you can’t unwatch.

My family had a farm in Georgia, and the animals were free, loved and cared for like housepets. I always hoped that the farms were like that. But it’s not the case and the pictures of packed in birds not only harm the chickens but can become the next hotspot for the avian virus, or the next pandemic. COVID-19 is only the most recent of these infections that have lept from the animal world to humans. It’s getting to be a pattern. We can avoid it by just not eating the food that supports these farms and these conditions.

10. During COVID-19, sales of meat are down and plant-based foods are up.

No one wants to hear about any workers who are getting sick or have rampant cases of COVID-19, as is the case in the meat processing industry. It’s literally stomach-turning to imagine meat workers, chopping up meat while standing close together, falling ill to COVID-19 in droves. More than 20,000 meatpacking workers have fallen ill and the death toll in the meat plants has risen above 5,000, as plants like Tyson and Smithfield have been forced to shut. The outbreaks in the meat plants have led to shortages, and consumers staying away from meat. Sales of meat are down 18 percent, and the meat industry is projected to lose billions of dollars this year due to coronavirus disruptions.

Sales of meat are down, for the first time in six years as meatless alternatives are driving plant-based sales up. During the spring buying season, total plant-based food sales grew 27%,  which was 35% faster than total retail food sales. More Americans are embracing eating plant-based foods, for their health, for the planet, for animals. What’s your reason? You have until August 2nd to give it a try.

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