Plant-based diet to help the earth
In honor of Earth Day which was celebrated April 22, I thought it would be a good idea to think about ways we can protect the earth by eating a wholesome diet.
According to Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, globally, the food supply chain creates roughly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions (due to human activity) and uses nearly 70% of the freshwater and 40% of all cropland. Some foods use more than others.
“Beef is a triple whammy for emissions,“ noted Willett. That’s partly due to the methane that’s produced by fermentation in the rumen of cattle, and partly due to producing the soy and grains that are fed to cattle.
“Converting that grain and soy to the food that we actually get from eating the cattle or from drinking their milk is hugely inefficient.”
And it’s getting worse.
“The expanding consumption of red meat around the world means cutting down forests and plowing them into prairies to produce more grain and soy to feed the cattle,” explained Willet. “And that releases even more carbon dioxide.”
A plant-based diet can lower the environmental footprint versus eating more animal foods, especially red meat.
The reason is that a plant-based diet emits the fewest greenhouse gases and uses the least cropland, irrigation water and nitrogen-based fertilizer.
Of course not all plant foods are equal.
Willett points out that, “Plant-based foods like Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ donuts are among the most unhealthy things we can eat or drink.” An unhealthy plant-based diet – which is high in refined starches and added sugars – uses more fertilizer and cropland than a healthy plant-based diet.
So, the double win is to eat a healthy plant-based eating pattern that combines an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes with modest amounts of animal-based foods.
The rule of thumb: Fill one-half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, one-fourth with whole grains, and one-fourth with protein foods, mostly from plants.
Here is a recipe for a colorful well-balanced salad.
Fennel & Strawberry Salad:
Whisk together 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, one-half teaspoon of whole-grain mustard and one-fourth teaspoon of salt. Toss with 6 cups of salad greens, 1 cup of thinly sliced fennel, 1 cup of sliced fresh strawberries and one-fourth cup of walnuts. Enjoy.
Tips for eating raw fennel: Trim off the stalks, cut the white bulb in half from top to bottom, and remove the core with a V-shaped cut at the bottom of each half. Now you’re ready to slice it thinly.