Will Plant-Based Diets Lead to a More Sustainable Future?
The global population is growing, as are concerns about our ability to feed it in the coming decades. Experts predict that by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food than we do today. This has led many to ask: what can we do to ensure that future generations have access to affordable, nutritious food? Respected researchers, nutritionists and food industry leaders all agree — one key is plant-based eating.
The recent rise of plant-based eating as a fad diet has created some confusion around what exactly this means and why it’s so important for sustainability and health. This article explains what plant-based eating is, the environmental impact of different diets, and how you can adopt a more plant-centric approach in your own life.
The benefits of a plant-based diet
Going plant-based has a plethora of environmental benefits. Eating a plant-based diet can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help reduce global warming. Plant-based diets also protect against soil degradation, water pollution, and wildlife extinction. It’s worth noting that these environmental benefits are associated with eating a plant-based diet that’s rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
A plant-based diet has also been linked to a wide range of health benefits, including lower cholesterol, a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Some research suggests that a plant-based diet may even help to slow down the aging process!
Environmental impact of different diets
What is the environmental impact of different diets? While this area of research is still ongoing, we are beginning to get a much clearer picture of the link between diet and sustainability. An omnivorous diet (a diet that includes both plant and animal products) has been linked to greater greenhouse gas emissions than both vegetarian and vegan diets. One study found that a diet rich in legumes is particularly beneficial in terms of sustainability.
Another report from the United Nations Environment Programme states that “animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives. This is likely because dairy is a resource-intensive industry that contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
This year, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency published a study that evaluated how different diets impact the environment. The study found that compared to meat-based diets, plant-based diets:
- Produce 49.6% fewer greenhouse gas emissions
- Consume 26.9% less energy in food production
- Reduce the environmental footprint by 41.5% compared to diets including meat
How to get started with a plant-based diet
If you’re interested in trying a more plant-based diet, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go vegan overnight. Studies suggest that people who try to go vegan and fail are significantly more likely to revert to an animal-based diet. Instead, you can start by incorporating more vegetables and legumes into your diet.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Keep vegetables and legumes on hand. You’re more likely to add vegetables to your diet if they’re readily available. Keep a few bags of frozen vegetables in your freezer and a bag of beans in your pantry so you can add vegetables to meals whenever possible.
- Cut back on meat. You don’t have to eliminate meat from your diet, but you can cut back significantly. The State of Climate Action 2022 report found that cutting back meat consumption to two burgers a week will significantly reduce our environmental footprint.
- Add more fruit to your diet. While fruit is not as rich in nutrients as vegetables, it’s low in calories and has been shown to make people feel more full compared to other foods.
- Consider plant-based snacks. Vegan snacks are not only better for the environment but are often healthier. Look for legume-based snacks such as pea chips, which are packed with plant-based protein and can be enjoyed guilt-free.
A plant-based diet is one that emphasizes the consumption of foods that come from plants, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, and seeds. Many people who choose a more plant-based diet do so because of the health benefits associated with increased vegetable intake.
A plant-based diet also has environmental benefits, as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and protects against soil degradation, water pollution, and wildlife extinction. An omnivorous diet (a diet that includes both plant and animal products) has been linked to greater greenhouse gas emissions than both vegetarian and vegan diets. One study found that a diet rich in legumes is particularly beneficial in terms of sustainability.