Going “Mostly Plant-Based” is Vastly Beneficial for Your Health and The Planet
It’s no secret that a plant-based approach to eating impacts your health and the planet. But you don't have to go "all or nothing" to see the benefits. In fact, a new Faunalytics study found that when people aim for meat reduction it leads to eating less meat and purchasing more meatless meals than if they were striving for a strict vegan or vegetarian approach. (Paradoxically the strict vegan or vegetarian approach has more follow-through, but the broader "mostly plant-based" approach attracts more people.)
So whether you are on the journey toward plant-based eating yourself, or you're trying to convince someone else to go plant-based (sister, dad, significant other), the best approach appears to be to lean into plants, and make the goal eating "mostly"plant-based, then pushing it a little further as you get used to this new way of eating. Consider that if you eat 21 meals a week and go plant-based for 15 of those meals, you are reducing your meat and dairy consumption by about 75 percent. This would have enormous impacts on your health and that of the planet, science finds.
As more people are willing to try to reduce their consumption of meat rather than making the goal of giving it up completely, these steps toward plant-based eating are making an impact. So even by switching out some days of the week (try Meatless Weekdays) or going plant-based two meals a day (meatless before dinner), your body and your planet will reap vast rewards.
Going meatless even a few days of the week also helps you save money, along with all the other benefits. Start with Meatless Mondays, then expand it to more days a week, suggests Dr. Akua Woolbright, National Nutrition Director for Whole Cities Foundation. Her suggestion: "Consume only one serving of meat, eggs or dairy per day, or practice a flexitarian diet, in which you eat mostly plant-based foods with small amounts of animal products limited to just a few times a week or a month."
The Benefits of Going Mostly Meatless, for the Planet
Reducing meat intake by just half of your usual amount has a direct impact on biodiversity and the environment. According to WWF, reducing livestock production by 50 percent would save 30 percent of biodiversity (or impact 12,000 species per year), while reducing annual meat consumption by 50 percent could save 1.72 million square miles of cropland—the size of India and Mongolia combined.
Consuming a mostly vegan diet will help to reduce your environmental impact by lowering greenhouse gasses as well as land and water use, all of which contribute to the climate crisis. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—more than the combined exhaust from all modes of transportation. The 13 largest dairy corporations emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the entire United Kingdom.
People who eat less meat and dairy are responsible for less than 10 percent of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. If the world's population continues its meat consumption, gas emissions from our food system will account for over half of global emissions created by humans by 2050.
Meat consumption is also tied to deforestation. An astonishing 60 percent of global biodiversity loss can be traced back to livestock production. By following a mostly plant-based diet you can help preserve endangered species and prevent fires like those that erupted across the Amazon rainforest in 2019. Eighty percent of converted lands in the Brazilian Amazon are used for cattle ranching. “Using whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as the main source of food reduces water consumption and land use, slows down deforestation, and reduces pollution,” Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, Ph.D. of Supplements 101, says.
The benefit of switching out just one plant-based meal a day for a year is the equivalent of saving the same carbon emissions as driving across the country, according to science offered by One Meal a Day, the organization started by Suzy Amis Cameron, activist, author and actor, and wife of James Cameron, who produced The Game Changers. The point is if you care about reducing your carbon footprint and have a positive impact on slowing climate change then the first step is to eat more plants and reduce the consumption of animal products.
The more people who successfully go "mostly plant-based" the better it is for the planet.
The Benefits of Mostly Plant-Based, for Your Health
Following a mostly plant-based diet--defined as two out of three meals a day, or four to five out of seven days a week--has a dramatic impact on your overall health and wellbeing, according to scientific studies. The long-term consumption of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Whereas a diet high in fiber protects against diseases, including cancer.
A mostly plant-based or vegan diet is healthier than a meat-based diet simply because "it’s higher in fiber and lower in salt, cholesterol, and calcium. A plant-based diet can also help people reduce the chances of getting cancer.
A mostly plant-based diet of whole foods is the goal and cuts out meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods. "Eating more legumes, fruit, whole grains and vegetables, it helps prevent disease by 15 percent,” Dr. Velikova says. The benefits kick in by both adding plants to your plate and eating less animal protein. Focus on adding more salads, greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. You'll fill up on plant-based foods and feel full and energized without needing to eat meat and dairy.
A Mostly Plant-Based Diet Reduces Lifetime Risk of Cancer
Reduced consumption of red meat, processed meats, and dairy is associated with a decreased risk of colorectal, esophageal, liver, lung, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, Dr. Woolbright points out.
Soy products have gotten a bad reputation, but whole organic soy products liked edamame beans, tofu, and tempeh, have been found to be protective against some breast cancers. Plus a high-fiber diet is associated with lowering the risk of breast cancer, a new study finds.
A Mostly Plant-Based Diet and Reducing and Reversing Risk of Heart Disease
Studies have found that just by changing to a mostly plant-based diet, those with heart disease can halt and even reverse their symptoms 80 percent of the time.
A healthful diet built on a colorful rainbow of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fewer animal products loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol and excess calories is nourishing and protective against heart disease, and changes in blood cholesterol can be measured in as little as four weeks, which is how long it takes to alter your microbiome and see healthy gut bacteria take over and signal the body to stop creating harmful calcium that eventually gets lodged in arteries as plaque. On a mostly plant-based diet, you can measure a significant drop in cholesterol levels just a matter of months, according to cardiologists such as Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who treats patients with a mostly plant-based diet first whenever possible.
By consuming more whole, plant foods, we flood our bodies, systems, organs, cells, and DNA with life-giving, nourishing, healing, restorative nutrients that decrease the risk of heart disease, strokes and mortality from strokes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, and other inflammation-related conditions, Dr. Woolbright points out.
Red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as apples, tomatoes, cherries, beets, sweet potatoes, oranges, cantaloupes, yellow peppers, and squashes are particularly good for cardiovascular health. Having beans, such as pinto beans, red kidney beans, and small red beans, for breakfast, and or dinner, helps regulate blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight, she suggests.
Whole Food Plant-Based Diets Are Lower in Calories and Can Help You Lose Weight
A healthy and balanced vegan diet that contains less saturated fat and cholesterol and more dietary fiber can also help you lose weight. Cutting out dairy may help you lose a few pounds as lactose is sugar that contributes to weight gain. This doesn’t mean all vegan food is healthy. You can’t just eat vegan versions of your favorite junk food and reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. Focus on eating mostly fresh, whole foods, and avoid packaged and processed products.
“Well-constructed vegan diets based on real, whole foods, are higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. They’re also lower in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol,” Dr. Woolbright says. “Whole, plant foods are primed to support optimal health because they naturally contain more of what our bodies need and less of what they don’t. By adopting these dietary habits, our food becomes our medicine.”