5 Ways a Plant-Based Diet Helps the Planet

Posted on by Neal Barnard, MD, FACC

sustainable agriculture

Last year, leading scientific researchers published a report in The Lancet that looked at the links between diet, the environment, and human health. They found that simple choices we make every day can have profound positive effects! After reviewing the evidence, they concluded that a shift toward plant foods can go a long way in promoting human health and the health of our planet.

The researchers found that eating more plants would help:

1. Reduce the impacts of climate change. The report found that food production is responsible for up to 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with animal products accounting for about three-quarters of these effects. The report states that projections for the future show that “vegan and vegetarian diets were associated with the greatest reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.” Other studies have backed this up. In one, researchers found that simply opting for beans instead of beef could help the United States reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets!

2. Save water. Agriculture accounts for about 70% of freshwater use, making it “the world’s largest water-consuming sector.” Meat and dairy products lead the way in agricultural water use. Producing just one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water (that’s the equivalent of about 100 showers for the average American!). Another study estimated that if the United States cut animal product consumption even by half, our food production would require 37% less water.

3. Minimize agricultural land use. The report found that agriculture occupies 40% of Earth’s ice-free landmass, noting that animal products have a large environmental footprint on our croplands. Another 2017 study projected that if Americans ate more beans and less beef, we could free up 42% of cropland!

4. Alleviate hunger. Animal agriculture uses resources inefficiently. The report found that more than 820 million people around the world lack sufficient food. It also noted that “almost two-thirds of all soybeans, maize, barley, and about a third of all grains are used as feed for animals.”

5. Save lives. The Lancet report found that “unhealthy diets are the largest global burden of disease,” having surpassed even tobacco use as the leading cause of death and disease worldwide. Eating more plants and fewer animal products could prevent 10.9 to 11.6 million premature deaths from heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions every year, according to the researchers.

Photo from here, with thanks.