My last blog post discussed the obesity epidemic, citing the statistic that about two thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese. My final project researches a way of eating whose followers weigh on average about 40 pounds less than those that eat the standard American diet. This is the diet of plant based eating, which promotes the consumption of fruits and vegetables while excluding meat and animal products.
Vegetarians and Vegans have been around for years, and often can be seen as hippies or social outcasts. The time has come to look beyond any preconceived notions about these lifestyles, and embrace other ways of choosing to eat less meat in favor of more vegetables, as there is much reason to do so. Plant based foods allow for people adhering to this diet to live longer, healthier lives, as well helps reduce the world’s global gas emissions, and these factors have led to significant market growth in vegan and plant-based products.
In addition to being able to stay fit and in shape, those who follow whole-food vegan diets, which are rich in nutrition and low in calories, live some of the longest lives in the world. In the US, non-smoking vegans who get regular exercise live on average to the ages of 87 years old for men, and 90 for women, compared to the general population life expectancy of 76 years for men and 81 for women. Clearly this way of eating is associated with longer life, especially when we think about the preventative effects it can have. The top two causes of death in the US are heart disease and cancer, which studies have shown can be reduced with a vegan diet. Coronary artery disease is the blockage of the arteries feeding the heart. This disease begins in childhood and kills about 400,000 people each year. The blockage, or plaque, comes from deposits of cholesterol, a type of fat found in all animal food, and very rare in the plant kingdom. Vegan populations have essentially no coronary artery disease. For those who have not adopted plant-based eating, it is important to know that this type of heart disease is reversible! A healthy vegan diet allows the body to clear away the plaque from clogged arteries, and also may reduce cancer rates by 30%-50%. For example, vegan women have 34% lower rates of breast, cervical and ovarian cancer. Animal foods contain IFG1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) and cholesterol, both of which promote the growth of malignant tumors. Animal foods also serve as pro-oxidants, causing damage to the cell’s genetic material in a way that can cause it to become cancerous.
In addition to having health benefits, a food system that takes plant based eating seriously could effectively remove 18% of human greenhouse gas emissions, given off by the meat production industry. The production of meat and poultry is a top source of these harmful emissions, which are mostly found in the production of methane by cattle, and lead to climate change and has other negative impact on the environment. Plant based foods can be produced with much less energy. In fact, it takes 10 times more fossil fuel energy to produce a pound of beef as it does to produce a pound of soy beans. Meat production uses lots of water, with 1,799 gallons of water being used to produce one pound of beef. To yield one pound of soybeans, only 258 gallons are needed. On top of this waste of water, meat production also pollutes lots of water ways. Much of the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used to grow the crops to feed the animals end up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. Meat producers also use hormones and antibiotics that pollute the water as well as damage human health. Modern meat, poultry, egg, and dairy production takes place in highly concentrated compounds that emit enormous quantities of water and air pollution. So, if more people went vegan or mixed plant based foods heavier into their diets, society would be healthier and have significantly less environmental impact, with less land, water, and animals needed to be used for human production of food.
Thus, my final project involved trips to local Waterville supermarkets to investigate the access to plant based foods. I went on trips to big chains like Hannaford’s, Wal-Mart, as well as smaller markets such as Uncle Dean’s. During my experience at these stores, I observed and purchased many different kinds of plant based foods to put my thoughts into action. I found that many of them had healthier ingredients, with much less “sketchy” ingredients and chemical sounding-preservatives. Furthermore, these foods were littered with positive labels that promoted healthy eating. I tried meatless protein alternatives, different vegetables pastas, as well as non-dairy cheeses and ice creams! Although some of these plant based foods did not taste the same, a lot of them actually were quite delicious. The world of plant based eating is occupied by all types of dietary preferences, from reducetarians to pescatarians to flexitarians. While the numbers of vegetarians and vegans are on the rise, it’s the people in-between; the people that are not subscribing to either diet, but simply reducing how much meat and dairy they eat that may well be making the most difference to how we eat as a society. These in-betweeners have the power to cook more plant based meals, eat more vegetables, and help sustain the growth of a healthier planet for all of its inhabitants.