Plant-based diets: better for you and your environment

Elise Sickinger, Backpage Editor

Many Americans would say that meat is an essential part of one’s diet. Almost as many would assume that meat consumption is the best way to get protein. Some are quick to disregard plant based diets, labeling them as “unfulfilling” or “unrealistic.” However, not only are diets such as veganism or vegetarianism healthier than meat-inclusive diets, but they also help fight against one of the biggest problems humans face today: climate change.

What exactly is a plant-based diet? To clarify, it is any diet that cuts out meat and substitutes that protein with other foods. One of the biggest misconceptions about them is that they are insufficient when it comes to providing protein. However, this assumption is incorrect. The American Dietetic Association notes this, saying that just like meat, “plant protein can meet protein requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met.” However, vegetarian and vegan diets don’t merely meet the needs for a healthy lifestyle, they exceed them.

On average, people who follow at the very least a vegetarian diet are healthier than those who don’t. “The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease,” stated the ADA.  Vegetarians also have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. Not only that, but vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index and overall cancer rates.

The benefits of cutting meat out of your diet don’t stop at your health. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that eating meat is detrimental to our environment. Farming livestock has a huge impact on our world. To industrialize the production of meat, Americans must speed up the breeding of livestock. This leads to massive amounts of animal waste―including flatulence emissions and feces―being discarded in our ecosystems. Pig waste, for example, causes large amounts of pollution in the areas surrounding pork farms, and the greenhouse gases released by cow flatulence contribute to global warming.

While it may not be widely known, beef cattle contributes more to climate change than any other aspect of agriculture. In fact, studies by UC Davis show that when emissions from cows are combined with emissions from meat processing factories, animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, trailing only fuel emissions and energy production.

Sophomore Andrea Gonzales sums it up best. “For me, the number one benefit [of veganism] is having my ethics in line with what I do everyday,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see the impact they have on our world by not being vegan or vegetarian. I feel like there’s been a weight lifted off my shoulders, like I’m doing a right in the world.”