7 reasons to add more plants to your diet

You probably know plant-based and plant-forward diets have considerable benefits. But you might not know the exact benefits.. Do they help your health? The environment? 

Yes to both … and more. 

Even adjusting your diet just slightly by consuming less meat and dairy and increasing the amount of plants you eat has a big, positive effect on your health, animals’ health and our ability to reach our climate goals.

By understanding the impact of your individual dietary choices, you may feel better able to make more informed decisions. Below are seven great reasons to eat less meat.

Personal health

Tweaking your diet to make plant-based proteins a priority has immediate and long-lasting health benefits. 

1. Heart health

The American Heart Association has found that eating a plant-forward diet lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke later in life. The more red meat you eat, including beef, pork, lamb and goat, the higher your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

2. Cancer prevention

Eating large amounts of processed and red meat can increase your risk of colon cancer. 

3. Foodborne illness

Meat and dairy products are responsible for nearly half of all illnesses and deaths caused by foodborne pathogens. Animal waste from livestock farms and feedlots harms nearby produce farms, too. 

Water and dust contaminated with animal waste that hosts strains of E. coli are sprayed on, or drift over to, produce farms. In recent years, this contamination has also caused many illnesses and deaths from people eating leafy greens. 

4. Antibiotic resistance

The gratuitous use of antibiotics in overcrowded livestock facilities builds dangerous resistance in pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. That makes them much more difficult to treat should a human contract any of these bacterial infections. 

Get Your Copy: EWG's Quick Tips for Reducing Your Diet's Climate Footprint

Climate

In addition to the personal health benefits of reducing animal protein consumption, it’s also a critical tool in the fight against the climate crisis.

5. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and carbon dioxide, are the most significant factor driving global climate change. Emissions from fertilizers, animal waste and animal feed in the U.S. represent 10 percent of our total emissions

Beef production alone produces more emissions than air travel. By cutting back on your consumption of animal protein, especially beef, you’re helping create a more sustainable food system. 

6. Curb water pollution

Runoff from animal waste and fertilizer often contaminates nearby water supplies and is difficult to filter out. Polluted drinking water has been linked to certain types of cancer and severe gastrointestinal illnesses. 

Rural communities and communities of color are most harmed by this pollution. The pollution can also create toxic algae blooms, with negative impacts ranging from inconveniences like beach closures to the death of household pets and wildlife. 

Animal welfare

7. More humane treatment of animals

Most U.S. livestock is raised in what are called factory farms. 

Along with their dire environmental harms, industrial farm conditions for animals like chickens, pigs and cows are inhumane. Cramped by the hundreds or thousands along with vermin and insects, animals in this type of environment require excessive antibiotics to avoid getting sick. 

The sheer amount of waste produced in even small factory farms is often more than the surrounding soil can absorb. This waste – brimming with antibiotics, cleaning chemicals and hormones – can seep into groundwater and run off farm fields into nearby streams and rivers. 

Whether you remove animal protein from your diet entirely or replace it with plant-based protein a couple of times a week, your choices will benefit your own health and the health of the environment. Understanding those benefits may also help make these decisions easier.

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