Plants for the Planet and for You
Not only does the planet benefit when people eat a diet rich in plant foods rather than animal products but there are many benefits to health as well. Research from Finland has found that a diet rich in plant protein is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes whilst a diet rich in meat increases the risk of getting the disease. It is thought that the increased risk associated with high meat consumption is likely to be caused by compounds in the meat other than protein. For example, eating eggs is associated with a lower risk of diabetes (1).
Another study study found that following a vegan diet for 21 days led to weight loss as well as improved blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol and reduced blood glucose and insulin levels (2).
And here are some more benefits of eating a plant based diet:
- People who eat a lot of beans and lentils are less likely to be overweight than those who don’t (3).
- Including pulses in a meal increases satiety over the next 2-4 hours meaning the likelihood of being hungry or needing a snack is reduced (4).
- Eating beans, peas and lentils is associated with a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer (5) and breast cancer in women (6).
And if that doesn’t persuade you to reduce your meat consumption in favour of plant foods here are some further findings about the consequences of eating a diet rich in red and processed meats:
- The US National Cancer Institute found that people who eat a lot of red meat have an increased risk of dying from all causes over a 10 year period. The meat eaters were at a particularly high risk of dying from cancer and heart disease (7).
- Those with a lower meat intake are at a reduced risk of developing heart disease and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels (7).
- According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation livestock farming generates more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. Meat consumption is contributing to serious environmental problems (8).
- Much of the deforestation that is happening globally is in order to provide land for meat production. This is playing a major role in climate change. Livestock farming accounts for 70% of the world’s agricultural land and 30% of the earth’s entire land surface (8).
- It takes 10kg of animal feed to produce 1kg of beef. The amount of grain currently fed to livestock could potentially feed 2 billion people (8).
- And what’s more researchers have found that people who consume red meat have less attractive body odour than those who don’t! (9).
There are a few nutrients that vegans and vegetarians may need to pay more attention to than meat eaters. These include:
Vitamin B12 – if you eat no animal products at all it is advisable to supplement with vitamin B12 or to eat foods fortified with this vitamin as plant sources of B12 may not be well utilized by the body.
Vitamin D – generally not found in plant foods, but your body can make vitamin D through the action of sunlight on the skin. Spend some time outside every day with some skin exposed. Take care not to burn but be aware that sun screen will block the manufacture of vitamin D in the body.
Iron – absorption of non-haem iron found in plant foods can be enhanced by including vitamin C with your iron rich plant foods. Iron is found in lentils, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and green vegetables. Vitamin C is found in blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwi fruits, peppers, green vegetables and sweet potatoes.
This is a good time to experiment with reducing your intake of meat and dairy products and increasing your intake of plant foods. You do not necessarily need to become a vegan or vegetarian but most people can benefit from increasing the amount of plant foods in their diet. Variety is important so include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and sea vegetables. Good sources of plant protein include chickpeas, aduki beans, lentils, butterbeans, kidney beans, haricot beans, borlotti beans, cannellini beans, peas, mung beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, amaranth, tofu, tempeh and green vegetables.
If you choose to include some animal products in your diet go for organic and free range foods. Conventionally farmed, non-organic meat may contain residues of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. The animals may also have been fed genetically modified animal feed.
Please consult with your medical doctor before embarking upon a strict vegan diet. Each person’s biochemistry and needs are different and will change over the course of life time.
- 1. Heli E, Virtanen K, Timo T et al. Intake of different dietary proteins and risk of type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. British Journal of Nutrition, 2017; 1
- 2. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Sep 13;9(1):82. A 21-day Daniel fast with or without krill oil supplementation improves anthropometric parameters and the cardiometabolic profile in men and women. Trepanowski JF, Kabir MM, Alleman RJ Jr, Bloomer RJ.
- 3. McCrory MA, Hamaker BR, Lovejoy JC, Eichelsdoerfer PE. Pulse consumption, satiety and weight management. Adv Nutr Nov. 2010 vol 1:17-30
- 4. Venn BJ, Perry T, Green TJ, Skeaff CM et al. The effect of increasing consumption of pulses and whole-grains in obese people: a randomized controlled trial J Am Coll Nutr. 2010 Aug;29(4):365-72
- 5. Agurs-Collins T, Smoot D, Afful J, Makambi K, Adams-Campbell LL. Legume intake and reduced colorectal adenoma risk in African-Americans. J Natl Black Nurses Assoc. 2006 Dec;17(2):6-12
- 6. Adebamowo CA, Cho E, Sampson L, Katan MB et al. Dietary flavonols and flavonol rich foods intake and the risk of breast cancer. Int J Cancer 2005 Apr 20;114(4):628-33
- 7. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann ME, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Mar 23;169(6):562-71
- 8. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Livestock a major threat to environment. Remedies urgently needed. 2006 Nov 29
- 9. Havlicek J, Lenochova P. The effect of meat consumption on body odour attractiveness. Chem Senses. 2006 Oct;31(8):747-52