In a world where concern for the planet is becoming more than just a passing fad, more people than ever before are converting to plant-based diets like veganism and vegetarianism: Since 2014, there has been a 600% increase in self-identified vegans in the United States. Multiple studies have shown that removing meat from one’s has evolved beyond a treehugger trend.
What does “plant-based diet” really mean?
Many people think of vegan and vegetarian diets when they hear “plant-based,” but those aren’t the only ones. Plant-based diets are just those that favor foods that come from plants over those that come from animals. For example, the Mediterranean diet, which includes fish, poultry, cheese, and yogurt. This is one of the most well-researched and popular diets in the world. The Mediterranean diet is considered by many to be a “plant-based” diet.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, an individual is plant-based when they are “proportionally choosing more foods from plant sources,” including, of course, fruits and vegetables, but also nuts and seeds, oils, and whole grains.
The Benefits of Being Plant-Based
Plant-based diets have proven to yield a plethora of health benefits, like reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer! They are popular among individuals with other diet restrictions, like lactose or gluten intolerances. Plant-based individuals also often report feeling better in other ways: increased energy, weight loss, and so on.
In addition to individual health benefits, plant-based diets have positive effects on the environment. Meat production contributes anywhere between 14-51% of greenhouse gasses by some estimates. Animal farming – whether for meat or for other products like milk or eggs – requires large amounts of land and water. Additionally, factory farms produce hundreds of millions of tons of waste annually.
All of that waste has to go somewhere – besides damage to our ozone, animal waste from factory farms also contributes to water pollution, and land development for farm space contributes of the destruction of plant life and animal habitats across the globe. By reducing our meat consumption and switching to plant-based diets, we can also reduce the harmful effects caused by industrial meat production.
Why Plant-Based Diets Are Making Headlines
So why all the fuss about a diet that has been around for over 2,000 years? Yes, people are showing more concern for the planet and want to do right by their bodies. However, another driving force behind this sudden surge of new vegans and vegetarians is that there are more animal product alternatives available than at any other time in history. People who are reluctant to abandon juicy burgers or who simply can’t give up cheese now have seemingly endless options: meatless Beyond burgers that really “bleed,” a plethora of plant- and nut-based milks, and an ever-evolving array of non-dairy cheeses are available at any grocery store.
As meal kits and meal prepping also grow in popularity, plant based meal delivery options are also expanding. Gone are the days of bland tofu and boring salads. Now, whether they’re dining at home or eating out, plant-based individuals have options.
Many people shy away from plant-based diets because they don’t want to give up their favorite foods. That’s perfectly understandable, but plant-based is not a deprivation diet – think of it as a refocused diet. Instead of eating meals mostly made up of meat and animal products, substitute them with plant products. Many fruits, vegetables, and nuts provide the same nutrients – like protein – that we get from meat, so you don’t actually have to give anything up; just find an alternative.