Plant-Based Diets: Good for You, Good for the Earth
Plant-based diets have numerous health benefits and can also lengthen your life span. But did you know they can also reduce your impact on the Earth?
A plant-based diet is predominantly composed of plant food, but doesn’t necessarily mean total exclusion of meat. Rather, proteins such as meat, poultry and fish are simply consumed in smaller amounts than plant foods.
While veganism and vegetarianism are the most well-known plant-based diets, there are also the following:
Pescetarians: people who eat no meat, but eat fish;
Lacto-vegetarians: people who eat dairy products, but avoid eggs;
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: people who eat no meat but consume some animal products, such as eggs and dairy.
Be Kind to Yourself and Your Community
So, what are the personal health benefits of a plant-based diet?
A number of studies show that people who follow a plant-based diet have a reduced risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, lower rates of heart attack and stroke, and also have a longer life span.
With respect to the community, sourcing locally and eating seasonally supports local farmers. It also helps us be more conscious of where our food comes from, and generally uses less of the Earth’s resources. In this regard, organic choices are excellent options to help foster environmental sustainability.
Be Kind to the Earth
Not only is a plant-based diet good for your overall health, it’s good for the Earth. Environmental and sustainability considerations are important factors with respect to plant-based diets.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Choosing plant foods more often helps to save water, reduce water pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization devoted to global environmental concerns, livestock production is responsible for up to 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In a recent study, researchers found that, over the past 30 years, people have been consuming more meat protein, empty calories (e.g. sugar, fat, oils and alcohol) and total calories per person. If this trend continues over the next 30 years, the researchers projected that diets in 2050 would lead to an 80 per cent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from food production, as well as habitat destruction due to land clearing for agriculture around the world.
Another study showed that the amount of feed grains used to produce animal products (milk and eggs) consumed in a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet was about half (450 kg) the amount of feed grains fed to the livestock (816 kg) to produce the animal products consumed in the a typical diet.
Did you know that it takes almost 2,000 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk? And it takes between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons to produce one pound of beef — take into consideration that much of this water is used to grow feed for the cows (grasses and grains).
According to researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., 87 per cent of all fresh water usage in the U.S. is used for agriculture. Also, it takes almost 100 times more water to produce a pound of animal protein than a pound of grain protein.
Save Animal and Plant Habitats
Worldwide, almost a third of land used for farming is used for animal agriculture, and much of this is used to grow crops to feed pigs, cattle and chicken. As a result, commercial animal agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation and soil erosion.
Help Prevent Water Pollution
Manure from factory farms is stored in giant lagoons and applied — untreated — to crops as fertilizer. The toxins in such large quantities of manure aren’t absorbed by the soil. Instead, they make their way into groundwater, and our rivers and oceans, where they destroy marine ecosystems.
Help Protect the Health of Farmers and Children by Purchasing Organic
Farmers exposed to pesticides can have a significantly higher risk of contracting illness compared to non-farmers. Children are relatively more exposed than adults when they ingest pesticide residues in food. Choosing organic products reduces the exposure for children and the farmers who grow our food.
Tips for Incorporating Plant Foods Into Your Daily Nutrition Plan
Try these healthy and delicious strategies for maximizing your intake of plant-based foods.
Boost your fruit and vegetable intake. Incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal. Try avocado toast for breakfast, or prepare a big leafy salad for lunch or dinner topped with chickpeas or edamame. In both cases, you’ll enjoy the benefits of plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as tasty proteins.
Rearrange your plate. Fill 1/2 with veggies, 1/4 with protein and 1/4 with carbs. Swap healthy proteins or vegetables, such as tofu or mushrooms, for meat in a soup or stew.
Make healthier animal protein choices. When choosing meat, opt for leaner selections, and choose chicken and fish more often. When eating red meat, choose leans cuts, such as top sirloin or pork tenderloin.
Find a rhythm that works for you. Consider Meatless Monday or Stir-Fry Saturday. Choose a day and meal that works for you to go meatless and fill up on plant-based foods.
Consider supplementation. To help make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need from your diet, consider adding a daily multivitamin, or supplementing your meals with protein powder or omega-3s.
Tips for Making Safe and Healthy Plant Food Choices
Look for Certified Organic Products
In Canada, products that have an organic content that is greater than or equal to 95 per cent and have been certified according to the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime (our country’s organic certification system), may display the Canada Organic logo. The Canada Food Inspection Agency regulates the use of the Canada Organic logo. Look for products bearing this label:
The Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen
Each year, the Environmental Working Group, an environmental organization specializing in research and advocacy in agriculture, releases the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The guide lists the Dirty Dozen, which are the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and the Clean 15, which are the fruits and vegetables in which few, if any, residues were detected.
Among the Dirty Dozen culprits in 2018, strawberries topped the list, followed by spinach, nectarines and apples. The top of the Clean 15 list included avocados, followed by sweet corn, pineapples and cabbage. Use these lists to make healthier choices for you and your family.
Enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet, for your own health and for the environment! Visit your local CHFA Member health food store to learn more about plant-based foods.