Converting to a Plant-based Diet — the Environmental, Health and Economical Benefits

W.M. Chandler -- Contributing Writer

Posted on Monday 24th September 2018
Source: J.L. Capper, Journal of Animal Science, December, 2011.



In recent American history, we have adopted a meat-with-every-meal diet. In other countries and in America’s recent past, it was a display of wealth to have meat at a meal. Typically, most of the dishes on the table were plant based. As we learn more about the environmental, economic and physical health benefits of returning to plant-based diets, consumers are driving a market of plant-based meat substitutes.

Vegetarian meat substitutes are enabling the younger generation that choose to eat less meat with more nutritious options than just bread and cheese. The global meat-alternative market is expected to reach $5.2 billion by the year 2020. A new vegan steak has hit the market in Europe and has been flying off the shelves faster than it can be restocked. It “bleeds” when you cut into it and is high in iron and B12 — two vital nutrients typically obtained from red meat.

Often younger vegetarians just opt for an easy late night pizza,especially busy college students. Additionally, the focus for vegetarians has been on just getting enough protein, not realizing that there are other 40 other essential vitamins and nutrients they may be missing in their diet. Many plant-based proteins can help to reach their daily protein intake goals but macronutrients such as zinc and calcium are also needed to maintain a healthy well-balanced diet.

Many millennials are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact that livestock have due to our desire for meat. Growing up in the face of climate change, the threat to our planet’s health is a consistent focus in their newsfeeds, driving many towards vegan diets. Currently, half of the world’s crops are being fed to livestock and 26 percent of grazing land is devoted to raising livestock. We have been combating a global food crisis that could possibly be remedied if the planet was willing to reduce its meat intake by at least half.

Animal protein is a very inefficient food source when considering the natural resources that it takes to raise livestock. One quarter-pound hamburger requires 6.7 pounds of grains and forage, 52.8 gallons of water for drinking and crop production, and 1,036 btus of fossil fuels. When comparing areas farmed for vegetables and grains to the same size acreage it takes to raise one head of cattle, the facts are difficult to deny. One hectare planted with rice or potatoes has the ability to feed 19-22 people over the course of one year. One hectare used to raise one cow or lamb would only feed 1 to 2 people.

Older populations are swaying towards a more plant-based diet for the added health benefits. Vegetarians have been found to have lower health risks associated with cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and certain types of cancer. Eating a plant-based diet can also increase your life expectancy. It has been discovered that vegetarian men live 9.5 years longer than a meat eater, and women live an average of 6.1 years longer than a meat-eating female.

Choosing to eat a more plant-centric diet doesn’t mean you would have to adopt a strict vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Just like many of the other fine things in life, everything is acceptable in moderation.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  • Start an indoor/outdoor garden.

  • Take a cooking class from a different culture and experiment with new recipes.

  • Experiment with exotic herbs and spices.

  • Join your local CSA.

  • Substitute portobello mushrooms for beef burgers.

  • Try plant-based proteins as meat substitutes in 3-5 meals per week.

  • Add fruit to your salads and breakfast cereals.


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