What does a plant-based diet look like? Here’s what you need to know to eat less meat

Crispy noodles with glazed tofu, New York, September 16, 2021. (Kate Sears / The New York Times)

Crispy noodles with glazed tofu, New York, September 16, 2021. (Kate Sears / The New York Times)

One thing most of the country seems to agree on is that we need to eat more plants. More than half of Americans (63 percent, regardless of political affiliation, according to a 2021 study by Yale University’s Climate Change Communication Program) are trying to eat less red meat. In the United States, plant-based products have become an $8 billion industry in 2022, with growth of seven percent over the previous year.

This phrase appears more and more often as we observe the effects of climate change: extreme heat, stronger storms and the like. Maybe you have doubts, so below we explain what this means.

What is a plant-based diet?

The exact definition of a plant-based diet can vary, and the term is often used interchangeably with veganism. However, they are not the same.

Any food labeled vegan will be plant-based, but the opposite is not always the case.

In general, a plant-based diet consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, grains, and nuts, with little or no meat, dairy, or fish. Those following plant-based diets do so for reasons of health, animal welfare, or environmental awareness.

Plates of coconut chickpea curry with pumpkin and lime, New York, September 13, 2019. (Ryan Liebe / The New York Times)

Plates of coconut chickpea curry with pumpkin and lime, New York, September 13, 2019. (Ryan Liebe / The New York Times)

Veganism is an animal rights-based moral philosophy that abstains from all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, honey, and products that contain leather, silk, or wool, or that have been tested on animals.

This distinction is important because while many people are not interested in giving up animal products entirely, any reduction in their consumption will help the planet.

Is a vegetarian and vegan diet better for you?

Not necessarily. Vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore diets (and pescatarian and vegetarian diets) can be made up of fresh, whole foods (known as whole grain diets, which are good for you) or highly processed (which aren’t). The more processed foods you include in your diet, the worse it is for your health, whether your chicken nuguets are real chicken or vegan.

Because the term “plant-based” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has become a widely used marketing tool. You will find it in products of questionable health, such as ultra-processed instant noodles, French fries and energy bars.

However, eating a wholesome, plant-based diet has been shown to have myriad health benefits, including reducing the risk of diabetes, improving the gut microbiome, and generally helping you live longer.

Do I have to completely give up animal products to follow a plant-based diet?

Most experts (for example, Harvard Medical School) define a plant-based diet as a diet consisting mainly of plants, with occasional consumption of small amounts of meat, fish and dairy, several times a week to several times a week. month.

Reducing your meat and dairy intake has been shown to have a significant positive impact on the health of the planet and can also benefit your health as long as you replace meat and dairy with whole, minimally processed foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and cereals , not diet sodas and vegan donuts.

So you don’t have to give up dried meat.

Are vegetarian and vegan diets better for the environment?

Yes, and there is more and more evidence of this. Another large study was recently published showing that a plant-based diet is significantly better for the environment than a meat-based diet.

Research from the University of Oxford has shown that people who eat a meat-free diet are responsible for 75 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than those who eat meat every day, and that following a low-meat, vegetarian or pescatarian diet is proportionally less damaging to the soil, water and biodiversity than a meat-rich diet.

Other studies have shown that the production of meat and dairy products — especially those derived from cows — emits as much carbon dioxide a year as all cars, trucks, planes and boats combined. (That’s true whether the meat is factory-farmed or organically raised.)

The more plant-based your diet is, the healthier it will be for the planet.

Of course, the dramatic and rapid changes required for real progress will require ambitious steps in government and business policy. But the cultural change that is taking place is a necessary step in that direction.

And the cheese?

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, many cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella may be even worse culprits than pork, chicken and fish. So a pescatarian or flexitarian who eats a small amount of chicken or bacon from time to time but avoids these cheeses may have a more positive impact on the planet than a vegetarian who eats a lot of cheese and dairy every day.

Is plant-based meat healthier than conventional meat?

It depends on your content and brands are very different. While plant-based meats are generally lower in saturated fat and sometimes more fiber, they can also be higher in sodium and calories. Read the labels carefully before purchasing them.

How can I start cooking more plant-based foods?

Reducing meat and dairy leaves room on the plate for all sorts of delicacies, such as fried veggie chili on hot rice; homemade sourdough bread smeared with tahini paste and jam; plate of chili tomato salad and vegetable meatballs. Many people start a plant-based diet, giving up meat and dairy once a week, and work their way up from there. You can also try limiting meat and dairy to three or four meals a week and reduce this number over time.

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