More people are switching to a plant-based diet for the environment than ever before, but health is still the primary reason people give for eating plant-based, according to a new survey released by Mattson.

The number of consumers eating for the environment has increased by 17 percent since 2018, to 48 percent, the survey found. Mattson, a company that creates new food and beverages, released the survey, which found that the number of people doing so for health dropped 17 percent in the same time period. President and Chief Innovation Officer for Mattson, Barb Stuckey said, “In large part, people are choosing to eat plant-based foods more often because they say it’s better for the environment.”

Still, consumers' main driving force for choosing to eat plant-based is their health. Specifically, 65% of those surveyed are eating plant-based for their health but, this number has declined 17% in two years, from 82 percent back in 2018. The survey was conducted among 350 respondents during a webinar held by the Institute of Food Technologists.

There's a generation gap in the reasons people eat plant-based

The survey found that both Millenials and Gen-Z choose plant-based foods for the environment, whereas Baby Boomers and Generation X do it for their health. Younger generations choose to eat foods that don't harm the environment, whereas older generations eat to fight heart disease and prevent cancer, diabetes, etc.

Eating more plant-based foods can help to reduce carbon emissions and waste that can end up in the ocean, making it one of the easiest ways to personally fight climate change. Incorporating more plant-based foods, or eating a flexitarian diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent, according to research done by Nature.

Flexitarians are to thank for plant-based foods being in high-demand.

Fully converted vegans and vegetarians aren't causing the high-demand for plant-based alternatives, the survey found. Rather, flexitarians are driving the surge in demand. Flexitarians incorporate plant-based foods into their diet, but still, eat some animal-based products as well. Stuckey revealed, "Appealing to flexitarians has led to a trend called “meeting in the middle."

This has led to companies like Tyson to create a burger made of real beef and pea protein to appeal to this demographic. The Impossible Whopper is another example of a "plant-based" burger for the flexitarian consumers: The meat is vegan but it still has real dairy cheese, and is cooked on the same grill as meat.

A common misconception is that is a meatless diet consists of Beyond and Impossible Burgers rather than whole foods. The survey revealed that people who eat plant-based prefer whole foods, especially beans, lentils and chickpeas as their favorite source of plant-based protein rather than faux or alternative meat.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, reported, "Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-[greenhouse gas] emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.”

Health continues to be the top motivator for those switching to a plant-based diet. But, whatever your reason is for going plant-based, impacts your health, the environment and animals in a positive way.

More From The Beet