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Plant-based Diets

The pros and cons of going plant-based.

The global production of food accounts for releasing almost 30% of greenhouse gases. Raising animals for meat represents a significant portion of this. Recently, in recognition of this, some have been adopting a plant based diet. But how effective is eating plant based in terms of lowering greenhouse gases and is it healthy?

According to DNA evidence dating back to 300,000 years, humans have been continuously adapting to local environments and evolving. This shows that we are capable of going under changes, including changes to our diet. However, changes to our diet will affect us in significant ways. For instance, by consuming plants, you may not get the same nutrients as you would with animal products. Nutrients such as vitamin D3, creatine, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids are not present in a plant-based diet. Dietary analyses have shown that vegan diets lack DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while vegetarian diets have very low levels of these.

However, vegan and vegetarian diets have been shown to have substantial protective effects against heart disease. Additionally, one study has shown that, those who consumed meat three or more times a week had worse health compared to those who consumed meat less regularly. Consuming more poultry meat, unprocessed red meat, and processed meat was also linked to having higher risks of heart disease, pneumonia, and diabetes.

A comparison between the carbon footprint of plant-based foods and meat products. Image: Our World In Data

A comparison between the carbon footprint of plant-based foods and meat products.
"How does the carbon footprint of protein-rich foods compare?" by Our World in Data is licensed under CC BY 4.0


Certain meats are also associated with higher CO2 equivalents, like beef and lamb. Furthermore, roughly 100 times as much land is required to yield a kilocalorie of lamb or beef compared to plant-based alternatives. Approximately 80% of all farmland is used for dairy and meat production. Theoretically, if everyone was to become vegan, we would need 75% less agricultural land. The elimination of mutton, beef, and dairy have the most significant difference in this.

Furthermore, roughly 100 times as much land is required to yield a kilocalorie of lamb or beef compared to plant-based alternatives.
"If the world adopted a plant-based diet we would reduce global agricultural land use from 4 to 1 billion hectares" by Our World in Data is licensed under CC BY 4.0



Biologically, as well as nutritionally, it is possible to eliminate meat from your diet. In terms of the environment, eliminating dairy and beef have the most effects. However, whether you decide to stay with your diet or become vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, or simply emphasise plant-based foods, it is your choice.

Endnotes:

“Food Production Is Responsible for One-quarter of the World's Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Our World in Data, 6 Nov. 2019, ourworldindata.org/food-ghg-emissions.

Ritchie, Hannah. “Less Meat Is Nearly Always Better than Sustainable Meat, to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Our World in Data, 4 Feb. 2020, ourworldindata.org/less-meat-or-sustainable-meat.

Papier, Keren, et al. “Meat Consumption and Risk of 25 Common Conditions: Outcome-wide Analyses in 475,000 Men and Women in the UK Biobank Study.” BMC Medicine, vol. 19, no. 1, Springer Science+Business Media, Mar. 2021, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-021-01922-9.

Dinu, Monica, et al. “Vegetarian, Vegan Diets and Multiple Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis of Observational Studies.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 57, no. 17, Taylor and Francis, June 2017, pp. 3640–49. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447.

Sanders, Thomas a. B. “DHA Status of Vegetarians.” Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, vol. 81, no. 2—3, Elsevier BV, Aug. 2009, pp. 137—41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2009.05.013.

James, William Joseph, et al. “Nutrition and Its Role in Human Evolution.” Journal of Internal Medicine, vol. 285, no. 5, Wiley-Blackwell, Feb. 2019, pp. 533—49. https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.12878.

Rd, Soniya Nikam Ms. “Are Humans Supposed to Eat Meat?” Healthline, 23 Aug. 2021, www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-humans-supposed-to-eat-meat#evolution.