It's World Vegetarian Day – here's why you should make this lifesaving change to your diet

Science backs up the vegetarian diet – studies have shown that, compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians enjoy better overall health and are less prone to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other health problems

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The Independent Online

I've been vegetarian for most of my life, ever since the age of 13. For as long as I can remember, the idea of eating animal flesh has turned my stomach. My mum says that even when I was really little, I would eat all the veggies on my plate and leave the meat – or I would keep the meat stuffed in my mouth and spit it down the toilet when I thought no one was looking! When I was a bit older, my best friend was a vegetarian. We were huge fans of The Smiths, and I wore the "Meat Is Murder" badge. When I started to realise that meat really is murdered animals, that was it for me.

Today, 12 per cent of adults in the UK leave animals off their plates, an impressive leap from five years ago, when only 2 per cent of Brits were vegetarian. And it's the kids who are leading the way – 20 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds say they are vegan or vegetarian, and that figure will grow. I'm in awe that young people are part of the fundamental shift towards a kinder, more respectful way of living.

Going vegetarian means sparing sentient beings a pain-filled life in a crowded, filthy warehouse and a terrifying death at the abattoir. Investigation after investigation of British farms reveals the same thing: sick, miserable, and dying animals that are treated like inanimate objects, not living beings deserving of care. Intelligent, sensitive animals raised for meat are never given the opportunity to enjoy their families, feel the sunshine on their backs, root in the soil, or do anything else that's natural and important to them.

And it doesn't matter how meat's labelled, either. When it comes to animal flesh, there's only one guarantee: that young animals were slaughtered so that their bodies could be dismembered, packaged, and sold. The only way to avoid contributing to this suffering is to leave animals off our plates.

We can also seriously reduce our carbon footprint by ditching meat. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that a staggering 51 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide is a result of "livestock and their by-products". It's no wonder the United Nations has concluded that a global shift to a vegan diet is vital to alleviating the worst effects of climate change.

As well as being considerate of animals and the planet, it's the best choice for my health. I rarely worry about gaining unwanted pounds – and I put that down, in part, to my meat-free lifestyle. Science backs up my experience, as long-term studies conducted in the US have found that, on average, vegetarian women are about 19 pounds lighter than their meat-eating counterparts, and vegetarian men are 16 pounds lighter. 

It can also help you feel good. Even if I stuff my face, I don't get that full, bloated feeling. My digestive system works brilliantly. Science backs this up, too: studies have shown that, compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians enjoy better overall health and are less prone to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other health problems. Fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and other plant foods are loaded with all the vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients that our bodies need, without all the cholesterol and saturated fat found in meat.

If you're like me, you'll feel healthier and have a lighter conscience knowing that you're no longer contributing to the horror that millions of animals endure every day in Britain and doing your part to help the planet. I encourage anyone who's ready to make a change for the better to opt for healthy, humane, meat-free meals. My friends at PETA offer a free vegetarian/vegan starter kit for anyone wanting to make the switch. Try it – your only regret will be that you didn't do it sooner.

World Vegetarian Month starts on 1 October.