For many people in certain areas of the world, access to food can be a challenge. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world food production will need to increase by an estimated 70% by 2050 to feed everyone. To achieve this, food production will need to double while overcoming a perfect storm of rapid population growth and the declining per capita availability of land, water and energy resources.
Plant-based proteins: a sound alternative
According to the US Food and Agriculture Organization, raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the second highest source of emissions, which is also greater than all transportation combined. This statistical data is also propagated by the European Union. And, a recent study compiled by a group of international experts stated that worldwide shortages of cropland, fresh water and energy resources requires most people to live on a plant-based diet. Consuming plant-based protein such as pea or soy protein is something that’s already widespread. Increasingly, more people in Western countries continue to reduce their meat consumption. In Europe, one in ten (9%) food products launched in 2018 had a vegan/no-animal ingredients claim, doubling from 5% in 2015. Most plant-based protein sources, as opposed to animal protein, are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats, and higher in fibre. More people now understand that consuming plant-based food could have some beneficial effects on their health. And, from a sustainability viewpoint, plant-based diets are the smart way to go for our planet.
The health benefits of plant-based food: lower blood pressure, weight management and lower cholesterol
An increased amount of plant-based protein in our diet can lower blood pressure. This is partly because meat protein sources contain constituents such as saturated fat. It’s important for our health to lower the intake of these fats and increase the intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids. The fat balance is often more favourable in plant-based food. Plant-based diets also play a role in weight management and blood sugar levels. Compared to a diet containing meat, vegetarian diets are associated with a reduced risk of obesity. One of the reasons for this is that plant-based diets are often high in fibre. Fibre increases digestive bulk – the time food is in our digestive system, and gives us a feeling of satiation for a longer period [12, 13]. And, these fibres may slow down the absorption of other nutrients such as sugar and decrease the amount of insulin that is released [12, 14]. Not surprisingly, then, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is much lower in vegetarians. Some of the healthy foods that are part of a plant-based diet such as nuts and legumes provide nutrients that can help improve cholesterol levels and may affect the health of your blood vessels. So, a plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease.
The key sustainability benefits of plant-based food
These types of foods have possible health benefits, and choosing a plant-based diet might also be a good decision for our planet, as plants have:
- A smaller carbon footprint – The food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions of which the main part is associated with livestock production. A plant-based or vegetarian diet produces less greenhouse gas emissions. A diet that contains meat, produces more greenhouse gas per kcal, per serving and also per gram of protein. For example, 20 servings of vegetables have less greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of beef.
- Less water and land usage – Animal-based foods need more resources such as water and land compared to plant-based foods. In comparison, cows are the least efficient animals, followed by pigs and poultry . Shifting to a more environmentally sustainable dietary pattern such as a vegetarian or vegan diet could reduce the use of water by 50%, and the use of agricultural land and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70%.
Rising to the challenge
We live in an era of major challenges, and every generation could say the same, but research proves that we are at a critical point on topics such as health and +. Food security is a particular subject that combines both issues. As a global nutrition company, Herbalife is committed to making a positive contribution. From research, development and product innovation to permanent improvements in our manufacturing and supply chain – Herbalife ensures that it meets and exceeds changing customer needs while remaining committed to sustainability.