|A great way to celebrate Earth Day is by shifting to a healthier and more sustainable plant-based diet (if you have not already)!|
Decades of nutrition research have proved that the common denominator for the longest lived and healthiest people and societies is a plant-based diet where meat is eaten very occasionally or not all. A plant-based diet is composed of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, legumes/lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds and modest intake of sustainably raised fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, with red meat only sparingly. The healthiest and most sustainable diets also minimize sugar and processed, packaged foods.
On Earth Day and all days it is important to remember that your food and diet choices have a large impact on the environment. This is because the impact of agriculture and food production on our planet (often referred to as the FOODPRINT) is profound. Consider that half of all the land in the United States is under agricultural production in crops and pasture and 70% of all water used is for food production. Producing animal based foods is very resource intensive requiring significantly more land, energy, water, and soil. Vice versa, plant based diets preserve resources. A recent study showed that the Mediterranean Diet, which is a plant-based diet when compared to the average American diet high in meat, sugar, and processed foods reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 72%, water use by 33%, and land use by 55% 1. Another recent study showed an animal based diet used 3 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.5 times more pesticides 2. How we grow and produce our food and what we eat are the biggest environmental impacts of all our activities as humans!
You might wonder if the plant based diet pattern is for you? While it is true that each person’s unique diet needs, based on their individuality (genetics, lifestyle, culture, food availability, state of health, chronic disease) come into play, one thing is universal for food health for most all people—the inclusion of an abundance of minimally processed plant foods. If a chronic disease or health problem is present in one of my clients, as a registered dietitian and functional medicine practitioner, I start with a plant based pattern and make specific recommendations to meet an individual’s needs. Virtually everyone I see responds in a healthy way to a plant based eating style!
Sáez-Almendros S, Obrador B, Bach-Faig A, Serra-Majem L. Environmental footprints of Mediterranean versus Western dietary patterns: beyond the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Environmental Health. 2013;12:118-118.
Marlow HJ, Hayes WK, Soret S, Carter RL, Schwab ER, Sabaté J. Diet and the environment: does what you eat matter? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89(5):1699S-1703S.