Environmental and Nutritional Advantages of Replacing Meat with Plant-Based Alternatives
Advocates often say that meat-eating is detrimental to the environment and that alternatives are better for our health and the health of the planet. But what exactly are the consequences of replacing meat with plant-based alternatives? In a recent study, researchers looked into this question, comparing the environmental impact and nutritional value of meat to plant-based protein sources.
In short, they found that eating a plant-based diet is generally less resource-intensive than consuming meat. Plant-based diets save 35-50% of resources used for diet, including cropland, nitrogen fertilizer, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Nutritionally, substituting meat with plant-based protein sources also has advantages. The research team reports that plants are equal and sometimes even superior to meat in nutritional qualities. Plant-based diets provide, among other things, more vitamin A, K, and C, as well as iron, magnesium, and fiber than their meat-based equivalents.
Still, plant-based diets don’t automatically get a free pass. Some of them don’t fulfill the nutritional requirements of a well-balanced diet. On top of that, the research team also notes that B12 can’t be gained from plants, but argues that it can easily be supplemented.
Additionally, as some plant foods are less resource effective than others, it’s still important to think critically about the environmental impact of all plant diets, and about specific food items. For instance, while plant-based diets already require about 5-15% more water for irrigation than diets containing meat, this percentage would skyrocket if an individual decided to adhere to a plant-based diet primarily consisting of pears.
Nonetheless, the researchers highlight that substituting all meat with plants is one of the only effective ways to significantly reduce dietary resource consumption. These findings are in line with a host of previous studies, and confirm that replacing meat with plant-based alternatives is nutritionally possible, and even highly desirable. For someone looking to decrease their negative environmental impact while reaping nutritional benefits, making an informed change to a balanced and sustainable plant-based diet would be a good first step.