By: Megan Rasmussen MS, RDN
Most of us know plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good for us. Eating these foods consistently can help reduce inflammation in the body, boost immunity, and provide vital nutrients the body needs to survive and thrive. But did you know eating more plants is also good for the planet? If we all ate more plants and less meat, our individual health and the health of the planet could prosper. Here’s how:
Producing plant foods requires far less water than animal-based foods. According to watercalculator.org, producing 1 pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water, whereas producing 1 pound of tofu requires 304 gallons of water.4 Other plant-based sources of protein such as edamame, lentils, chickpeas, and soy milk require 64, 57, 41, and 19 gallons of water respectively per serving.4 The reason animal-based food products require so much water is because water is needed not only for the animals to drink, but also to grow food for the animals to eat. Essentially we are watering crops to feed animals to feed us. Imagine how much water could be conserved if we decreased the need for the middle-man (or middle-cow, if you will) and simply grew crops for people to eat.
Producing plant foods also releases less carbon emissions than animal food production. According to greeneatz.com, producing one kilogram of beef produces the same amount of carbon emissions as driving a car for 63 miles. On the other hand, one kilogram of plant foods such as vegetables, beans, and rice only produce the equivalent of driving 4-6 miles.
Eating more plants can also help preserve natural habitats. Deforestation of land is utilized to create more space for livestock and land to grow food for that livestock. However, by destroying forests, we upset the balance of our natural ecosystems. Deforestation degrades the soil, decreasing its nutritional value over time. Also, deforestation means less trees. And less trees means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.6 Additionally, according to Our World in Data, “Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories.” 3 The other 80% of the global calorie supply comes from plants, but only 23% of agricultural land is used to grow crops for human consumption.3
Clearly, eating more plant foods and less animal foods is beneficial to the environment. But you don’t have to completely change the way you eat overnight to make a difference. Even committing to a few days per week or one meal per day of plant-based eating can help. According to bluezones.com, “if everyone in the U.S. reduced their meat and dairy intake by just 50 percent, it would be equal to taking 26 million cars off the road.” 1 Not to mention the benefits your body would see from this dietary shift.
Now you might now be wondering, how can I incorporate more plant-based eating into my lifestyle? What is a good place to start? You can ease into plant-based eating by trying some of these ideas:
- Add a vegetable or fruit to a meal you normally wouldn’t.
- Try swapping cow’s milk and yogurt to the soy, almond, pea, or oat alternative.
- Commit to eating one plant-based meal each day. If this is overwhelming to you, just start with one plant-based meal a few times per week.
- Focus on obtaining protein through sources such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, non-dairy milks, and soy products.
- Search for new plant-based recipes online or in a cookbook. (Two great resources for delicious and nutritious plant-based recipes are Pick Up Limes and Healthy Grocery Girl.)
- It may not seem like the nutritional choices of one person make much of a difference in the environment when the world is so wide. However, if all of us make small changes, the impact can be bigger than we could imagine! Just remember to make one small change at a time. Your body and the planet will thank you.
- Can Changing Just One Meal a Day Make a Difference? – Blue Zones. (2022). Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.bluezones.com/2018/12/benefits-of-eating-plant-based-for-just-one-meal-a-day/
- Food’s Carbon Footprint. (2022). Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.greeneatz.com/foods-carbon-footprint.html
- How much of the world’s land would we need in order to feed the global population with the average diet of a given country?. (2022). Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-land-by-global-diets
- The Water Footprint of Beef: Industrial vs. Pasture-Raised. (2022). Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/water-footprint-beef-industrial-pasture/
- Waite, R., Searchinger, T., Ranganathan, J., & Zionts, J. (2022). 6 Pressing Questions About Beef and Climate Change, Answered. Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.wri.org/insights/6-pressing-questions-about-beef-and-climate-change-answered
- What Is Deforestation? Definition, Causes, Effects and Solutions to Stop it. (2022). Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-what-is-definition-deforestation-causes-effects/