Can a Vegetarian Diet Save the Environment?
Dec 21 2016 Comments 0
New research published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) suggests that vegetarian and vegan diets could do wonders not only for the health of those who consume them, but also the environment as a whole.
Not only can plant-based diets reduce the risk of severe diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but they are also more eco-friendly and sustainable than those based on animal products.
Massive environmental benefits
The study claims that a vegetarian diet can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as 29%, while a vegan one can halve those produced by a meat-based regimen. This is largely due to the reduced resources used in the production of each.
For example, producing 1kg of protein from kidney beans is considerably more sustainable than producing 1kg of protein from beef, since the process would use up 18 times less farming land, 12 times less fertiliser, 10 times less water and 10 times less pesticide.
As a result, switching to a diet which does not rely on meat clearly would reduce our carbon footprint as it would cause less of a strain on our natural (and chemical) resources… and that’s before the methane factor is even taken into account.
A lot of hot air
While carbon often steals the headlines when it comes to climate change, the damaging effects of methane on our environment are actually 23 times higher than carbon. This means that a significantly smaller amount of methane can have a dramatically bigger impact on global warming than carbon dioxide.
The methane emissions produced by the flatulence of livestock is a well-publicised fact. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States (FAO), the agricultural industry (and specifically, livestock) is responsible for 18% of all GHG emissions, which is higher even than the transport industry.
Though research into reducing cattle emissions through selective breeding is ongoing, this is seen by many as avoiding the real root cause of the problems. Instead of engineering our livestock to produce less emissions, we could eliminate their emissions in one fell swoop by turning to a plant-based diet.
Good for health, too
According to the AND’s latest paper, vegetarian diets aren’t just good for the environment, either. They could also have significantly beneficial effects on personal health, reducing the risk of contracting a whole host of chronic diseases. Among others, plant-based diets could:
- Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 62%
- Reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 35%
- Reduce the risk of heart attacks by 32%
- Reduce the risk of any cancer by 18%
- Reduce the risk of heart disease by 10-29%
“People who adopt vegetarian diets have lower body mass indexes (BMIs), better control of blood pressure and blood glucose, less inflammation and lower cholesterol levels compared with non-vegetarians,” explained Vandana Sheth, an AND spokesperson. “Registered dietitian nutritionists can help people who want to follow a vegetarian eating plan in any life stage to make well-informed choices to achieve these benefits.”
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