Sustainable Idaho: Plant Based Diets
We have spent the past few weeks talking about soil health and sustainable agriculture, we spoke to a soil scientist and two organic farmers.
This week, I want to focus on something anyone can do as part of a sustainable lifestyle, and that is to have a plant-based diet.
Industrial animal husbandry, or large-scale meat production, represents a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to research done by UCLA, if each person in the US gave up meat and dairy products on a regular basis, we would save the environment from thousands of tons of carbon emissions. In one year, animal husbandry creates as much carbon emissions as the entire transportation sector. Additionally, more than 50% of our freshwater is used in raising livestock.
For example, 1 pound of beef requires between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce. And a gallon of milk requires 1,950 gallons of water.
Now I know having a plant-based diet isn’t for everyone, and some people may have concerns over maintaining their health while avoiding meat. To answer questions about a plant-based diet, I spoke to Andrea Jeffery, registered dietitian nutritionist, the nutrition clinic coordinator for clinics located in Meridian.
To start, what exactly do we mean by a plant-based diet?
“A plant-based diet is as individual as individual eating patterns. It can be 75% of your plate that is plant-based, or up to 100% of your plate being plant-based. There unfortunately is no universally researched definition of plant-based at this time. You can have patterns, anywhere from whole food plant-based, to vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, some are vegetarian flexitarian and there are a whole bunch of others that follow depending on the individual's need and whether they want to have an entirely plant-based diet, or if they want to add dairy or meat into their diet.”
So then, technically, being plant-based means making an effort to incorporate plants into your diet. In casual terms, most people refer to being plant-based as cutting out nearly all animal products.
We know that becoming plant-based is good for the earth, but it can also be good for our health.
“It has many overall benefits. First of all, being plant-based is not a diet. You may lose weight on a plant-based eating pattern, but it depends on how you approach it. There is a lot of research on the fact that you can lose weight on a plant-based diet, which then will decrease your risks of chronic disease. So, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, there is now a lot of research into dementia and brain health as well.”
And then, what kind of nutrition do we get that can only be found in plants and not animals?
“A lot of things that we would miss out on if we were just to eat animals. So antioxidants and phytochemicals are found in. If they can help reduce damage to our muscles and other tissues and they help build cells, they reduce inflammation in our body. Fiber is only found in plants as well. Plants give us a plethora of vitamins and minerals that our body takes and then does miraculous things.”
A common question most vegans and vegetarians are asked, is how do you get enough protein without eating meat? But Jeffery explains that certain plants have enough protein to keep a person healthy.
“With your protein, as Americans, generally, we eat way too much protein anyway, so you can get adequate quantity and quality of protein with plant-based eating. And this goes for all stages of. Whether you're an infant, a child, a pregnant woman, college students, adults, elderly. If you're athletes, you want to focus on really good sources of non-heme iron.
So, 15 grams of protein, where does that come from? So, two slices of whole wheat bread with two tablespoons of peanut butter or your favorite nuts. One and a half cups of an oat cereal with three-fourths cup of fortified, alternative beverage, otherwise known as almond milk or soy milk, cashew milk. You want to make sure it's fortified, for several reasons, your B12 as well. One cup of beans or lentils is 15 grams of protein, three-eights of a cup of tofu or pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of nutrients. Plus they're really crunchy. Always get unsalted. A smoothie with soy yogurt. Those are great sources of protein, or you could have a pound of broccoli or kale for 15 grams. Depends on what you want. More concentrated foods that have protein are your corn, wheat, rice, quinoa, or legumes. So you have beans, peas, or lentils, your nuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and pecans are great sources as well.”
And what about iron? How can those with a plant-based diet ensure they are getting enough iron?
“If you're plant-based you can increase your iron absorption with vitamin C-rich foods. Tomatoes, citrus fruit, melon, kiwi, broccoli peppers Iron absorption can also be inhibited, if you consume black green and some herbal teas and coffee with your meals. We want to make sure that your iron is being absorbed and that you're getting enough. So peas, beans, lentils, dark green veggies, soy foods, seeds, and nuts mushrooms, whole grains, and dried fruits. And being a dietician, unless you need supplementation, I would suggest getting your needs from the foods that you're eating.”
That sounds like great advice for anyone. But for athletes or people with a fitness-oriented lifestyle, is it possible to be plant-based?
“Yes. Now the important thing, whether you're an athlete or not is to get enough calories throughout the day. That is how you are going to get all of your nutrients. Athletes may need a little more protein depending on if they're active, ff they're endurance athletes, if they're strength athletes, I would really suggest athletes meet with a registered dietician nutritionist so that they can work on whether they're beginning a plant-based eating pattern or they're maintaining it so that their needs are being met”
Having a plant based diet is an individual plan and is possible for anyone who is looking for a simple way to reduce their carbon footprint.
My conversation with Jeffery was to answer general questions, and should not be taken as medical advice. Anyone thinking about becoming plant-based is encouraged to meet with a dietitian nutritionist. For online resources, Jeffery recommends visiting the websites of The Physicians Committee, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or the Vegetarian Nutrition DPG.
But if you are looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, replacing animal products with plant products during mealtime is a great place to start.