Save the planet…with your diet?

Save the planet…with your diet?

It’s been argued that a plant-based diet is “better” — better for your health because it lowers the risk for diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But better for our planet, too?

In a study in the journal Nature, researchers contend that if no changes are made to the high consumption of red meat and processed foods, the environmental impact of our food system will nearly double over the next 30 years – “exceeding key planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital ecosystems could become unstable.”

Unless we rein in the environmental impacts of our food system, dangerous levels of climate change will affect our health in numerous ways – from longer allergy seasons and decreased air quality, to deadly wildfires and extreme weather events, the study says.

The researchers also claim it will take nearly halving our food waste to reduce “greenhouse gas emissions, water used and pollutants produced.”

That all sounds scary, right? Well, you can help.

The researchers note because the production of animal foods and products is responsible for nearly 80 percent of total agricultural emissions, one of the most powerful ways to make an impact is to reduce animal food intake.

“In the health care sustainability world, we use the mantra of ‘less meat, better meat’,” says Katie Wickman, sustainability manager at Advocate Aurora Health. “The idea is to lower meat intake overall, but when you do eat meat, make sure the animal was raised in a healthy, sustainable manner. For most people, even modest steps in this direction will not only help the environment, but their personal health, as well.”

Sure, plants also require environmental inputs to grow, but research indicates that it is significantly less. They name legumes, such as peas, lentils and beans, as the most sustainable proteins that we should rely on.

The researchers explain that not only do these plants “require very small amounts of water to grow, they can grow in harsh, dry climates, they grow in poor nations, providing food security, and they act like a natural fertilizer,” but they are also known to be high in B-group vitamins and an excellent source of antioxidants. Because of high levels of protein and fiber, legumes will also help you stay full for longer, which will help avoid snacking and overeating.

Not ready to ditch meat for good? Compromise. Try implementing just one meatless meal a day. As a flexitarian, or plant-based “beginner,” you can slowly work your way to a predominantly plant-based diet but allow yourself flexibility. This diet includes majority fruits, vegetables and proteins, such as beans and nuts, along with modest amounts of poultry, fish and dairy, in addition to small amounts of red meat. So, this doesn’t mean eliminating meat altogether, just swapping it for plant-based proteins when you can.

To learn more about protecting the future of health, visit Advocate Health Care’s Sustainability & Wellness page.

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  1. Need a list of foods to eat for GERD

  2. No! No! Wrong on all counts! Big ag is worse for the environment than animal grazing! Properly managed cattle are environmentally regenerative, fixing carbon in soil in excess of their methane emissions. (Forbes magazine, just google it.) They improve soil structure, they recycle nutrients. And that’s to say nothing of the amino acids in abundance in meat, and scanty in plants, even when ‘combined.’ Only meat provides all the essential amino acids, essential to all the body’s repairative and growth functions. Besides that, it provides the most minimal and well formed bowel movements, according to NASA, to whom such a question really matters in zero gravity space flight.

    Agriculture, on the other hand, is cutting down forests to grow more vegetables and fruits. Consider soy bean production. It is a leading cause of soil erosion and the displacement of indigenous people (soy is being used to produce industrial oils). Cattle can live in a forest environment while they concentrate naturally growing nutrition in their bodies, but agriculture is de-foresting huge tracts of land in Argentina, for example, and Brazil.

    No, a plant-based diet is not a good idea for the environment or for your diet. Raise animal food responsibly and you and the earth will be the better for it.

  3. Thank you for this very true article! It is refreshing to see people trying to better our world. Eating vegetarian has saved my life. My mom died of colon cancer and I did a lot of research. Going vegetarian is way better for your health (if you do it right), for the environment and of course for the animals. When I went vegetarian in 2004, I was just going to try it for 1 week to see how it felt. To my surprise, my bowels acted way better and my energy was way better. I never went back to eating meat. I am healthier than I have ever been.

  4. Thanks Janet Baker for your insight on this matter.

  5. I’ve become 95% plant based over the past two years. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my health! I did it gradually. Started out with meatless Mondays. It gets easier and easier, and it feels like I’m aging in reverse. I’m turning 48 on Thursday. I take no medication and have no health issues. I highly recommend moving towards a plant based lifestyle for anyone who wants to feel healthier, younger and to cut back on meds. It’s worth it. You’re worth it!!! The human body is pretty amazing when you give it more of what it needs (nutrients) and less of what it doesn’t need.

  6. Everything depends on where you source your foods. I have to agree that nothing is destroying this planet faster than big AG. Meat products, raised responsibly by small farms, like vegetables are possible. Look at that perfect, tasteless carrot genetically designed to grow tall for easy machine harvesting & compare it with a small, round, mishapen heirloom carrot full of flavor & sweetness … that’s the difference. Support the small farmers for your needs & for theirs.

  7. Janet Baker, The author specific “Less meat, better meat”…better meat is the “grazed” meat you mention. Big Ag raises corn and soy mostly for animal feed, fuel, and other industrial products including ultra-processed foods. There is no question that a plant-based diet is far healthier for people and the planet. If those plants are sourced locally from sustainable farms… all the better.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.