Studies have shown that global consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts will need to double, and consumption of meat and sugar will need to half in order to sustain a healthy diet for a population of nearly 10 billion by 2050.
Meat consumption is now recognised as a key contributor to environmental degradation. But why?
The production of beef is particularly greenhouse gas intensive; cattle are ruminant animals and produce significant amounts of methane, which is a greenhouse gas 21 times as intensive as carbon dioxide.
A significant proportion of the greenhouse gas effect from beef production comes from the loss of trees where feed crops are grown and harvested to feed the beef.
Large amounts of energy and water are used to convert plants into meat protein. For example, 3000L of water are used to produce 1 steak. That’s equivalent to 2 months worth of showers.
Australians currently consume 95kg of meat per year, which is triple the average amount per person globally and triple the amount recommended per the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
It’s clear that it’s not sustainable to consume meat the way we are, so what can we do about it?
Let’s talk about a plant-based diet. Now a plant-based diet doesn’t eliminate meat, it doesn’t mean going vegan or vegetarian; rather, it places emphasis on plant-based foods. Where plants constitute the majority of the food consumed. Dairy and meat are eaten sparingly, rather than as a feature of every meal. It’s somewhat aligned to the Mediterranean diet which is scientifically shown as a benchmark for healthy eating.
Ideally, a balanced diet includes small amounts of animal-based products because meat contains important micronutrients, such as B Vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, Iron, Zinc and highly bioavailable forms of protein for humans.
There are also several health benefits of eating more plant-based meals:
Plant-based meals are generally higher in fibre and lower in fat which can help maintain a healthy body weight
They are low in fat and saturated fats, which can help lower blood pressure.
They’re high in antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals, which all help control blood lipids and protect against heart disease
High-protein, high fat, low-fibre diets create an environment in the colon that promote the development of cancer in some people. Incorporating more plant-based meals can help reduce the risk of this.
Plant foods such as rice, beans, fruit and vegetables have a far smaller footprint than meat and require less resources to produce.
What Healthy Plant-Based Eating Habits can you establish?