Benefits of a Plant Based Diet

Benefits of a Plant Based Diet

Food production is a major contributor to climate change, creating a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Food that comes from animals makes up two-thirds of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and uses more than three-quarters of all agricultural land (to raise the animals and to grow feed for the animals). If everyone adopted a plant-based diet instead of our Western meat centric diet, we could cut food created greenhouse gas emissions as much as 70 percent (vegan diet) and 63 percent (vegetarian diet, which includes dairy and eggs).

In terms of land use, it is much more efficient to grow plants than to raise animals and the food to feed them. Plant-based diets can feed 14 times the number of people on the same amount of land as meat-based diets. If more people converted to a plant-based diet, land previously used to raise animals and their feed could be reforested, creating much needed carbon sequestration.

Given droughts around the world with our growing temperature increases, saving water has taken on more urgency. Producing animal products uses far more water than producing plant foods. It takes 4,000 liters of water to produce a kilo of beef, while it takes just 1,071 liters of water to produce a kilo of pulses.

There are health benefits to a plant-rich diet as well. According to the Mayo Clinic “A plant-based diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and certain types of cancer.” A typical plant-based diet should consist of half your plate leafy greens, one quarter of your plate, legumes, and the other quarter of your plate grains. It is important to include healthy fats as well such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Refer to this Mayo Clinic article on getting the proper nutrition on a plant rich diet:

A good place to start your plant rich diet journey is to cut back on beef, dairy and lamb. Cattle and sheep burp up methane gas (a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period). They also cause deforestation to expand grazing pastures, which releases a large amount of carbon dioxide as well as eliminates a carbon sink. The raising of cattle has caused 80% of Brazilian rainforest destruction. Cattle and growing feed for cattle is the number one cause of deforestation globally. According to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that offers information and insight about climate solutions, “if cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

One does not have to go on a 100% plant-rich diet overnight to make a difference. On my journey towards a plant-rich diet, I first cut back on beef, lamb and dairy by substituting ground turkey for ground beef in recipes, switching to oatmeal instead of yogurt for breakfast, and eating more chicken, eggs and fish. Then I slowly cut back on poultry and fish and added legumes and more whole grains like quinoa, farro and barley to my diet. Good books to reference include, Vegan Reset: The 28-Day Plan to Kickstart Your Healthy Lifestyle and 28-Day Plant Powered Health Reboot. Some great places to buy plant-based foods in Alameda are the Grocery Outlet and the Alameda Marketplace. Many of our restaurants in town offer vegetarian or vegan dish options. The Butcher’s Son in Berkeley is a vegan butcher shop with excellent plant-based proteins and cheeses.

Food waste is another issue that is responsible for roughly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Food and Drug Administration offers helpful tips to avoid food waste on their website Tips include making a shopping list and sticking to it, asking for to-go containers for leftovers when eating out, and selecting imperfect produce that might otherwise go to waste. Making soups, rice stir fries and frittatas out of wilted vegetables is not only delicious but saves food from going to waste. Reducing food waste not only helps protect the climate, save land and water, it saves you money.

Slowly changing to a plant-based diet is great for the planet and your health. Give it a try with a meatless Monday to start.

CASA is a community-wide coalition dedicated to the implementation of programs to achieve Alameda’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan and to increase community sustainability and well-being.