The good news in this temperature turmoil is that you play a significant role in this warming trend, with your own personal habits. That’s because your diet is the nexus between health and environment. Paying attention to it gives you the most powerful tool to spare the worst effects of both climate change and your health. Your job is to simply to eat lower on the food chain, choosing whole plant food sources of protein and nutrients over animal foods.
Animals are inefficient at converting their food to human food. They eat more than they produce, and require a whole lot of energy, water, land and resources to convert feed to what humans call food. According to recent research, producing a single kilogram (kg) of meat, (that’s 2.2 pounds), chickens require 3.3kg of feed – we’re feeding them more than three times the food for what they produce. Pigs need 6.4kg, and beef demands up to 25kg. These ratios just account for their feed, and not even consider the demand for the water and energy needed to grow and harvest them into food. Even the smallest conversion rate is huge, compared to plants. According to research, Americans could reduce their energy consumption from food production by about 50% if they converted to an all-plant diet.
Animal foods, and to a lesser extent, processed foods, demand excessive energy to provide nourishment, while whole plant foods – vegetables, grains, legumes and fruits, with their natural fiber intact, deliver all the nutrients we need (except vitamin D and B12), for a much lower energy demand, and without the fear of overeating. Fiber protects us from eating too much!
So the more we consume whole plant foods, the more we crowd out the other foods not serving us well, including those energy-demanding processed foods – animal foods being the most processed of them all. Now, more than ever before, is the time to adopt your personal planet-saving habits.
As a guide, here are my simple 4 Sustainable Planet Food Rules to last a lifetime, to save your health and the planet:
1. The more whole plants the better. Prioritize whole plant foods with fiber intact, including whole vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. These are the most nutritious, as the fiber adds bulk to fill your up but virtually no calories. Fiber adds water and regulates how quickly protein fat and carbs enter the blood. So you can’t overeat them!
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. A muffin at a party won’t be the end of the world, or the end of your healthy diet. Just eat better next time. There is no such thing as falling off the wagon, as healthier options are always there next time you eat. In the long-run it’s the everyday dietary pattern that dictates health or disease, not that muffin. Now, if you eat another muffin tomorrow, and the next day as well, along with bacon, a burger, and cheese nachos—Houston, we have a problem!
3. Eat the rainbow. The beautiful colors of fruits and vegetables are the antioxidants that protect us from harm. They make up the defensive shield protecting our cells and DNA from toxins and damage done by unstable metabolites called free radicals. Eat plants and we get protection. Deprive the body of them and damage from free radicals is left unchecked.
4. Eat as much as you want as long as it has intact fiber; (easy the on nuts). If the foods you eat are chock full of fiber that isn’t tampered with (like whole grains as opposed to flour), you can eat until you are full without worry. A diet based on whole plant foods will fill you up before you eat too much. The only concern here would be the high-fat plant foods, including nuts, avocadoes and coconut. Limit them if concerned with weight, blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
That’s it! – How to eat optimally in a nutshell. Of course, make sure to work with your doctor with any medical concerns.
Meat and Seafood Production & Consumption. H Ritchie, M Roser – Our World in Data. August 2017, Retrieved January 21, 2019.
Pimentel, D., Williamson, S., Alexander, C.E., Gonzalez-Pagan, O., Kontak, C. and Mulkey, S.E. 2008. Reducing Energy Inputs in the US Food System. Human Ecology 36: 459-471.
Kathy is an instructor and course designer for the University of New England online graduate program in applied nutrition. Her extensive experience with those interested in making lifestyle changes has inspired her to develop, along with Micaela Karlsen, PhD, MSPH, SustainableDiet.com—an online program supporting people to successfully transition to a whole food, plant-based diet, serving as a resource for doctors as well as individuals ready to improve their diet and lifestyle, address disease, and live in accordance with their values for a better world.
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Kathy has spent six years as an instructor for the renowned T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. As an expert in diet and food choice she shares her extensive knowledge about the impact of food choice on the climate and environment in her upcoming book, Climate Party! The Sustainable Diet Party Plan.
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