Plant-based diets, as the name suggests, focuses on foods sourced from plants. But this extends beyond fruits and vegetables, and includes nuts, seeds, whole grams, beans, and legumes.
There are numerous studies available that show the massive health benefits associated with eating a plant-based diet, simply Google health benefits of a plant-based diet and you will be bombarded with information for all different types of ailments. Particularly, research has shown that swapping out an animal-based diet with a plant-based diet lowers your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, and cognitive decline, to name a few.
One of the biggest skeptics in adopting a plant-based diet is maintain healthy and balanced protein levels, and I will admit that not all protein is created equal. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are particularly important for promoting muscle protein synthesis have a higher concentration in animal-based proteins. HOWEVER, when comparing whey protein and soy protein use in conjunction with strength training, studies yielded negligible results in lean mass development between the two protein sources. Meaning, you can have your plant based “cake” and build muscle too!
In addition to the numerous health benefits, plant based diets considerably reduce our environmental footprint. Studies show that “shifting away from animal-based foods [could not only] add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands;” but would also significantly reduce carbon emissions and waste byproducts that end up in our oceans and as seafood byproducts (Jalava et al, 2014)
If everyone in the United States opted for a completely plant based diet at least one day a week, but ideally more, we would reduce carbon emissions by thousands of tons. Not so fun fact… in a single year, carbon emissions from animal husbandry is as much as the entire transportation sector combined (Hunnes, 2019).
In addition to carbon emissions, reducing our consumption of animal-based foods (meat and dairy) reduces our water usage by nearly half: 1 lb of beef requires between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce, and 1 gallon of cow’s milk requires 1,950 gallons of water. Whereas, 1 lb of tofu requires 302 gallons of water to produce, and 1 lb of unprocessed oats only requires 290 gallons of water (Beckett and Oltjen, 1993).
Because I know its coming… let’s talk protein.
One gallon of cow’s milk clocks in at 128 grams of protein which translates to 15 gallons of water per gram of protein. While oat milk only clocks in at about 75 grams of protein per gallon (which is still really high), the cost per gallon of protein is only 3.8 gallons of water.
So from a water perspective it is so much more cost effective and energy efficient to consume only plant-based foods, in addition to the massive reductions in carbon emissions AND habitat destruction associated with agriculture for livestock.
While these stats apply mostly to land-based animal food sources, unsustainable fishing practices also have profound impacts on the environment. Fishing nets account for nearly 50% of all ocean plastic. The sole purpose a fishing net is to catch and kill sea life, and that does not stop once a net has been abandoned. As more animals become trapped within the nets, they attract predators and scavengers that can become trapped as well, which draw in more predators and scavengers for an endless cycles of death and destruction. The nets can span across entire reefs, not only trapped marine life, but scraping the benthic habitat and potentially destroying millions of years of coral reef growth.
Additionally, most fishing practices are just not sustainable. Practices such as trawling destroy benthic habitats and results in large amounts of bycatch, or the capturing and killing of non-target species, most of which die and are just discarded. If seafood is not something that you are willing to give up, the Monterey Bay Aquarium created the Seafood Watch program to educate consumers on sustainable choices for a healthy ocean. You can check it out here.
Countless documentaries and news articles have uncovered the nauseating treatment of animals in the food industry. It is absolutely disgusting and completely heartbreaking to see what these animals have to endure. I am not a nutritionist so I will not make blanket statements that eating a completely plant-based diet is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean there is any room for animal abuse or unsustainable practices.
I do not understand how people knowingly support companies that engage in these horrific practices. Understanding where our food comes from is the only way to avoid supporting such companies. There are numerous companies that support sustainable and humane farming, and their products are widely available at most common grocery stores.
I urge you to do your research before mindlessly purchasing products that promote animal abuse. I will work on putting together a lists of companies to avoid and those to support, but I am honestly afraid to google it because I know what is happening and I can’t see it displayed on my screen.