More and more, conversation around optimal diets pushes toward a vegetarian or vegan approach. There are some powerful benefits associated with eating more plants, so the trend is largely a beneficial one. However – does this mean that we have to eat plant-based, or else? Some resources out there are alarmist, using dramatic over-interpretations of scientific research to portray that climate change and death by heart attack will be inevitable results of eating any animal products at all. Let’s pump the brakes on that line of thinking and re-establish some balance.
Yes, eating plants is amazing for us.
There is no denying that significantly increasing your intake of plant-based foods – fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, olives, avocado, plant oils, etc. – will lead to health benefits. These foods contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All these nutrients help with minimizing risks of heart and arterial diseases, cancer, blood sugar management, cholesterol management, digestive and immune health, and a healthy microbiome. Eat more plants, for all those reasons. Start with the general recommendation of 5 servings of fruits & veggies and 6-11 servings of whole grains daily (talk with a dietitian to determine your specific recommendations).
No, eating animal products will not kill us.
A lot of scientific research out there concludes that eating high amounts of animal products like meat, eggs, and cheese correlates with lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This may lead many to feel like they must avoid these products. Before going too far in that line of thinking, consider 2 very important factors the initial results leave out. 1) Many Americans are getting less than 1 serving of fruit and 1 serving of veggies daily, not meeting their recommendations. 2) Many Americans are eating animal products in excess of serving sizes and daily recommendations. So before eliminating animal products completely out of your diet, make sure you’re eating enough plants and sticking to portion sizes for protein (again, get your own personalized needs evaluated by a dietitian!)
Yes, eating more plants will benefit the environment.
It is absolutely accurate that raising animals for food requires more resources (water, feed, tended land area, electricity, heat, etc.) than growing plants for food. Global meat consumption has gone up 20% in the last 10 years, and one pound of beef requires an estimated 1,800-2,500 gallons of water to produce. Considering there are 7 billion of us on the planet, the more we can choose plant foods to meet our calorie needs, the less overall energy demand we place on the planet, and the less weight agricultural practices will have on climate change.
No, including meat sensibly in our diets will not result in the death of our planet.
As of last year, studies show that 71% of global carbon emissions were still the result of fossil fuel companies (oil and coal). Documentaries like Cowspiracy seem to indicate that cattle farms are the largest driver of CO2 emissions. In truth, as of 2016 agricultural production constitutes about 13.5% of carbon emissions. While we can absolutely do our part to reduce that 13.5% by choosing plant-based options more frequently in our diet, the fight for climate change continues to reside in developing widespread renewable energy systems as fast as possible. According to Earthday.org, if every American skipped meat just one day a week, it would be the carbon equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Let’s start there!