Change Your Plate, Save the Planet?
With plant-based options soaring into the mainstream, such as the Impossible Whopper at Burger King and soy or almond milk at nearly every coffee shop, it’s time to look at what all the hype is about. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth,'' says University of Oxford professor Joseph Poore after conducting an analysis of 40,000 farms around the world.
Whereas something like an electric vehicle will make meaningful contributions to lowering your carbon emissions, drastically reducing meat and dairy help with greenhouse gases, deforestation, water and air pollution, water usage, endangered species, and ocean acidification. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of polluted water and ocean dead zones. It is responsible for using 50% of our fresh water supply and produces the same carbon emissions as the entire transportation sector.
These issues fall under the Sierra Club’s most prioritized goals: climate change and protecting our natural resources. To help leave your mark on these dire issues, start by considering things like meatless Mondays or an oat milk creamer in your morning coffee. Check out Wilmington Vegan’s Dining Guide to see which of your favorite restaurants around town already have delicious plant-based options available.
Each day following a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 40 lb of grain, 30 sq. ft of forest, 20 lb of CO2, and the life of one animal. With facts like these it’s easy to see why just the smallest of shifts can make the biggest of differences.
But how do I make the plant-based shift? Isn't being vegan expensive? Will I be getting the proper nutrients? But I like meat. Doesn't soy have too much estrogen? Where do I buy the ingredients?
Here are some answers to common vegan diet questions!
Going plant-based takes some time and effort, but ultimately is very doable. It is a matter of finding your most salient inspiration, be it for the planet, the animals,or your health, and keeping this motivation in mind as you transition away from factory-produced animals and their by-products. The internet is filled with thousands of resources on vegan recipes, replacements for common kitchen items, and the best vitamins and supplements to keep you in peak health.
You can easily get all the amino acids, the building blocks of protein, that your body needs to be healthy with a plant-based diet. Some foods are "complete" proteins like quinoa and chia seeds. Others like fruits, nuts, and vegetables contain several amino acids that over the course of a day, with a variety of healthy foods, can give your body the amino acids it needs.
B12 is the most common vitamin missing in a vegan diet. This can be taken care of with most multivitamins, a B12 supplement, or also with foods like nutritional yeast. Another one to watch for is iron. Most people are used to getting this in red meat, however there is significant iron in chickpeas, cashews, apricots, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and more.
As with any dietary shift, feel free to consult your physician, Vitamin panels can be done to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need, a healthy option no matter what's on your plate.
A well-rounded plant-based diet can be attained without ever setting foot in a specialty health shop. Your local grocery store will have everything you need like pasta, rice, sauces and dressings, fresh produce, and so on. While specialty stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's might have some more obscure items and plant-based meats and cheeses, these items are becoming increasingly common in regular stores, even Wal-Mart. Almost every grocery will have a handful of plant-based chicken tenders and beef crumbles, ice cream made with coconut milk, and cow-free chocolate bars.
But where will I get my protein?!
There are endless protein sources made from plants! Here are a few:
-Whole wheat pasta
See, not a very short list!
Being vegan doesn't have to be much more expensive than eating animals. Just as there are cheaper meat and dairy foods like ground beef and Kraft singles, verses NY strips and aged smoked gouda, the same is true for plant-based foods. Many diets around the world already consist of many plant-based foods, like rice and beans, hummus and pita, sauteed vegetables over rice. These are all vegan foods you've been eating for years, without having to label them as such, plus things like peanut butter and jelly, soft pretzels with spicy mustard, and spaghetti with marinara. More and more foods are becoming available that mimic the meats and cheeses that filled much of our diet. These replacements are often a little more costly than their animal counterparts, but will reduce in price as they become more commonplace.
Most soy concerns you may have heard can be dispelled with facts. Soy does contain a plant estrogen similar to human estrogen but with significantly weaker effects. The studies show that soy most often has a neutral or beneficial effect on health. Soy can potentially lower risks of cancers and heart disease, especially if it's in lieu of meat. And of course, if you're still hesitant, skip it! Many vegan diets contain little to no tofu; you can have a soy-free diet with whole grains, other legumes, fruit, seeds, and so on.
NBA players, Olympic athletes, and international powerlifters are turning to vegan diets that can decrease recovery time and improve indurance and energy. The documentary The Game Changers on Netflix is an excellent look into how peak physical performance and plant-based diets can go hand in hand.
The best way to start is to...eat! Write down some of your favorite meals and start Googling plant-based substitutions for the animal products. Black bean tacos, scrambled tofu breakfast burritos, and cashew cream sauce pasta can all be new delicious staples on your table. The internet is full of ways to replicate the foods you're used to while letting you in on new exciting plant-filled recipes you wouldn't have encountered otherwise. We wish you luck and the planet thanks you!