Eating a More Sustainable, Plant-Based Diet
-Karen Kipp, Registered Dietitian
Eating more plant-based foods – including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds – is not only healthy for your body, it is also healthy for the environment. For many of us, changing our eating patterns can be difficult. The idea of eliminating some of our favorite foods – like meat, cheese and other non-plant-based foods - can feel like an impossible task. The good news, though, is that making small changes throughout the week, like going one day meat-free, can have a big impact on your physical health, as well as the health of our planet.
4 ways eating more plant-based foods helps keep your body healthy
- They are packed with vitamins and minerals, which are essential to helping your body function properly.
- They are full of fiber, helping you stay fuller longer, and aiding in digestion.
- Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories. For example, a serving of carrots dipped in guacamole has less than 150 calories, while a serving of potato chips and dip can set you back about 220 calories.
- They can help prevent diseases. Since many plant-based foods are lower in calories, they help you maintain a healthy weight. This can help reduce your risk for diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
3 ways eating more plant-based foods helps keep our planet healthy
- It reduces greenhouse emissions and slows climate change.
Did you know that in one year, the farm-raised animal industry creates the same amount of carbon emissions in the United States as our entire transportation sector?
Not all animal products are equal when it comes to greenhouse emissions. One of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas and climate change is cattle. Cows need to consume 16 pounds of food in order to gain one pound. Much land and energy is needed to harvest and produce that food. Plus, because of the way cattle digests their food, it becomes methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Chart from forksoverknives.com. Information source: ewg.org
2. It saves water.
Water is one of the most precious recourses on our planet, and agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of American freshwater use. In fact, producing one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water! Not only does it take a lot of water to raise and feed livestock, but fertilizer, fuel and pesticides used in animal agriculture can get into our water sources. This can lead to algae and other water pollution.
Chart from forksoverknives.com.
- It conserves land.
About 18 percent of all land in the U.S. is used to raise livestock. In fact, livestock production is the largest driver of habitat loss and deforestation around the world.
Top plant-based protein sources
When thinking about swapping meat for a plant-based option, a top question dietitians hear is “how will I get enough protein?” The good news is that many plant-based foods are high in protein.
For comparison, 5 oz. chicken = approx. 25g of protein, ¼ pound of beef = approx. 20g of protein, 3 oz. of salmon = approx. 17g of protein, and two eggs = approx. 13g of protein.
- 1 cup tempeh: approx. 31g protein
- 1 cup cooked lentils: approx. 18g protein
- 1 cup edamame: approx. 17g protein
- 1 cup kidney beans: approx. 17g protein
- 5 oz. tofu: approx. 12g protein
- 1 cup cooked oats: approx. 10g protein
- 1 cup peas: approx. 9g protein
- 1 cup cooked quinoa: approx. 8g protein
- 2 tbsp. peanut butter: approx. 8g protein
- 1 oz. almonds: approx. 6g protein
Getting started on a more plant-forward diet
The good news is that you don’t have to completely eliminate entire food groups to help keep your body and our planet healthy. Start with Meatless Monday. Eventually, you’ll discover more plant-based foods that you like, and can start enjoying these foods more often. To get started on a more plant-forward diet, consider some of these tips.
- Make fruits and veggies your main course.
Instead of having a big steak with a side salad, make a large, veggie-packed salad and top it with some chicken. Or, for breakfast make a parfait with yogurt (you can even try a plant-based option), fruit and oats.
- Get creative and try new things!
- Do you love spaghetti? Try zoodles (spiraled zucchini) or spaghetti squash topped with tomato sauce and fresh herbs.
- Cook your veggies a new way. Bake them, sauté them or put them in the air fryer with a little bit of olive oil.
- Shop local.
Whether for meat or veggies, purchasing your food locally cuts down on transportation (fuel and carbon emissions). Plus, shopping local often gives you the opportunity to meet the farmers who are growing and raising your food. They may have some good tips for preparing your food!
- Try plant-based dairy-free alternatives.
Consuming dairy products can have a similar environmental impact as consuming beef. To cut down on your dairy consumption, try products made from plants, like oat milk, coconut milk ice cream and yogurt made from almond milk.
- Choose lower-impact animal products.
As mentioned above, not all animal products are created equally when it comes to the impact they have on our planet. For example, beef and lamb produce more than twice as many greenhouse gasses as chicken and turkey.
Ready to get started eating more plant-based foods? Get some inspiration from our Plant-entions Cookbook.
To learn more about nutrition services available at Bronson, visit bronsonhealth.com/nutrition.