Plant-Based Diets for Personal and Planetary Health
Dr Shireen Kassam May 22nd 2022, for the Eco Medics Conference
In this talk I cover the following:
- Our food system is at the centre of several major global crises, including climate, biodiversity loss, health, soil and ethics.
- The food system produces around 35% of greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture contributing more than half. In addition, animal agriculture is a major cause of biodiversity loss, species extinction, land and water use and pollution, ocean dead zones and deforestation.
- Despite the fact that 83% of farmland globally is dedicated to raising animals for food, meat and dairy only provide 18% of calories and 37% of protein.
- All plant foods produce less greenhouse gas emissions than animal-derived foods, regardless of how they are produced or transported.
- Animal agriculture is also responsible for the rising rates of antibiotic-resistant infections, which is now the 12th leading cause of death globally.
- Without address food production and consumption we cannot keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
- The single most impactful action we can take as individuals to reduce carbon emissions is to adopt a plant-based diet.
- Unhealthy diets are the cause of 1 in 4 deaths globally and 31% of premature deaths in Europe. Unhealthy diets are typically too high in animal-derived and processed foods, whilst being insufficient in healthy plant foods. This result in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
- The Eat Lancet Planetary Health Plate describes a diet that will keep the food system within planetary boundaries whilst promoting health and preventing chronic disease. It is more than 85% plant-based, allowing for small amounts of animal-derived foods if desired, but animal foods are not considered necessary.
- We know that a 100% plant-based or vegan diet is nutritionally adequate for all stages of life with a number of health benefits. In high income countries, a vegan diet would cost one third less than current diets.
- Plant-based diets are now recommended by major national and international health organisations for disease prevention and treatment and country-based dietary guidelines are shifting to promoting more plant-based diets.
- Our food choices are also a social justice issue given the poor physical and mental health of slaughterhouse workers.
- Health professionals should be promoting plant-based diets for all the benefits it brings.
‘Our food choices matter. Without addressing food production, we cannot meet our climate targets. Healthcare professionals should be leading by example and supporting patients to make healthier choices that will improve their quality of life and those of future generations’.