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How should you celebrate Earth Day? Go more plant-based, whether it’s flexitarian or vegan! You can reduce your environmental footprint plus gain health benefits.

Make an eco-impact this Earth Day! It’s simple. Eat more whole plants. Registered dietitians, scientists, and other experts in the field of nutrition are boasting the multiple benefits of eating a more plant-based diet, from personal health to planetary health. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States is among the top meat consumers in the world. In fact, the average American eats more than three times the global average of meat. So, we have room to reduce animal food consumption in our quest to reducing our personal environmental footprint.

Indeed, one of the best ways to lower your eco footprint, in terms of land, water, and fossil fuel use, is to reduce meat consumption—in particular red meat—and get more plant-powered. A plant-based diet comes in many forms, including vegan (no animal foods), lacto-ovo vegetarian (no animal flesh, except dairy and eggs), pescatarian (no animal flesh, except fish and seafood), and semi-vegetarian (allows small amounts of animal foods). Earth Day each year is the perfect time to choose a plant-based diet that fits your own lifestyle, preferences, and philosophy. Even if you just want to reduce your meat intake or do Meatless Monday, you can make a difference.

Roasted Tempeh Summer Salad

Plants For Human Health.

Plants, in their whole minimally processed form, have developed a self-defense system in the form of phytochemicals, which protect the plant from pests and predators. When consumed in plant foods, you can gain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Scientists have published hundreds of studies acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between humans and plants. These phytochemicals present themselves as colorful pigments in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. When we consume plant foods, these antioxidants kick into action, negating the damaging effects of free radicals on the body. It has become evident that consuming plant foods rich in these bioactive compounds is associated with lower disease risk. The nutrients in the whole plant, which also contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals, act together to produce activities that are truly unique. When these nutrients are consumed in a supplement, the benefits are minimized. The same unfortunate effect is witnessed in processed foods and refined carbohydrates which all originate from whole plants which have been stripped of their nutrient-rich properties.

Savory Tarragon Mushroom Loaf with Onion Gravy

If your diet contains high levels of animal foods, you not only increase your risk for health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but you contribute to an already unbalanced agricultural system. To produce animal food to meet the increasing demands of society, it takes tons of water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers. Research shows that plant-based diets are associated with better environmental sustainability. Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets are 50% and 35% lower, respectively, than most omnivorous diets, along with corresponding reductions in the use of natural resources. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests, if everyone in the U.S. followed a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road. According to an analysis of common proteins by EWG, beef, lamb, farmed shrimp, and cheese have the highest environmental impact, while plant proteins, such as nuts and tofu, have the lowest impact. The Barilla Institute found that plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes have a much lower environmental impact, compared with animal foods—an eating pattern that is in direct alignment with the most positive health benefits.

Green Bean Mushroom Pot Pies with Mashed Potatoes

In 2050, the population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people! At the rate we are consuming animal products and using more and more fossil fuels, food insecurity is inevitable. A switch to a more plant-based diet is crucial for promoting sustainable eating, and environmental experts agree. Consuming a diet based primarily on whole plant foods, including whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits will help foster healthier lives and a healthier planet for years to come. Even if you don’t want to become a total vegetarian or vegan, you can still make a positive impact by simply cutting down on meat—start with Meatless Monday and go from there! Make a difference this Earth Day, not only for yourself but for your planet.

Orange-Peanut Tempeh with Brown Rice

Top 5 Tips to Lower Your Diet’s Carbon Footprint

Try these five tips to reducing your environmental footprint related to foods.

Lentil Walnut Bolognese with Spaghetti

1. Choose Sustainable Plant Proteins

Switching to nuts, tofu, lentils, beans, and pulses is better for health and the planet. Make these foods the star of your plate in casseroles, stews, chili, veggie-burgers, and curry dishes.

Smoky Lentil Chili

2. Reduce Animal Food Intake

Plant eaters have significantly lower carbon footprints than meat eaters. Try skimming dairy products, and meats—especially red meats—from your diet more often in lieu of plant alternatives, such as tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and pulse-based foods.

3. Avoid Food Waste

An estimated 30-40% of perfectly edible food is wasted. It takes a lot of energy to produce food. When wasted, that energy and all of the resources are wasted too. Foods that end up in landfills also create greenhouse gas emissions. Buy only the amounts you’ll use, store properly, and compost. Learn more here.

Black Lentil Pesto Salad with Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts

4. Eat More Whole Foods

Highly processed foods take even more energy and resources to produce, as foods are refined, travel distances to be manufactured, then are packaged and are distributed. Choose whole, minimally processed foods as often as you can, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, over packaged snack foods, chips, candies, and sugary drinks.

Pomegranate Avocado Quinoa Salad

5. Eat with The Seasons

Learn which foods align with each season to support local agriculture and reduce the travel distance, which means less fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. Try growing some of your own food as well. Learn more here.

Image: Jade Edamame Brussels Sprout Rice Bowl, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

For other blogs on sustainable eating, check out the following:

If You Grow It, You Will Eat It
6 Ways to Cut Your Food Waste
Top 5 Tips for Greening Your Plate
Grow Your Own Food Toolkit

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