This article is part of a new series on Eco-Nutrition: integrating nutrition choices with ecological sustainability. For the introduction on the series read “Eco-Nutrition on Earth Day”.
Our eco-nutrition global question: “How to combine good nutrition and protection of our precious environment?”
Your plant diet might be healthier for your body but not healthy for the environment
Some food for thought or should it be ‘plants’ for thought?
By thinking of both nutrition and the environment let’s take a look at where we get our plant, seeds and legumes from. Our choices? Either we eat local or eat plant foods grown ‘away’; grown in our home country or foreign countries. Eating locally grown plant foods does not always provide all of our nutritional needs and we often need to purchase plant foods grown elsewhere. For ideal health and nutrition, eating from plants that are high in phytonutrients is a good objective. But where are these phytonutrients and plants grown?
Benefits of a plant diet
There are health benefits of a vegetarian or high plant-eating plan, such as the Mediterranean diet. The vegetarian or high plant diet should be balanced and varied, containing enough healthy proteins and fats. A healthy vegetable based diet can provide these health benefits:
- lower blood cholesterol
- lower risk of heart disease
- lower blood pressure
- lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- lower risk of obesity
- lower overall cancer rates
Are you following a vegan or vegetarian diet for personal values such as protection and love of animals? Thinking of environmental choices is not easy to blend with dietary choices, especially as a vegan who may live in a country which doesn’t grow high amounts of varied local foods.
If you are adding the environment to your personal values, I believe it is important to know where we get our plant foods and make the best ecological choices to protect our earth for future generations.
How to choose ecologically sustainable plants for our diet
- Choose local plant foods first
- Eat plant-based foods in season
- Know what countries the purchased plant foods come from
- Choose plant foods from countries and farming methods that promote ecologically sustainable methods
- What am I missing?
Why does the country where the plants are grown affect the environment?
There are countries that do large-scale environmental changes to produce foods for global market. An example is the deforestation practices in Brazil to produce palm oil and soya. Brazil is not the only country with these type of big land clearings but is an example of what is happening worldwide. Here is an article on soya and deforestation in Brazil to explain more on foods choices for palm oil and soya. This is an example of how demand for certain food products can lead to environmental destruction. Furthermore, certain ‘power nutrition’ plants that contain phytonutrients and phytochemicals in high doses are grown far away or are put in nutrition supplements that are not ecologically sustainable. For example, Gogi berries and papaya are high in phytonutrients, but may travel far to get to our plate or nutrition supplement.
Sometimes eating local is not always the best choice for the environment
I thought it is always best to eat local. It turns out that this is not always true. Read “Myths and Realities on Eating Local” for more information on making the best environmental choices and eating local. I add this link here because it helps add a global picture on where our food comes from.
Call to Action
Making the right nutrition and environment choices requires research. My call to action is to be aware, (something I wasn’t before) that the plant products we purchase can come from countries or sources that do not practice good environmental choices. This includes choices of nutrition phytochemical and phytonutrient supplements available on the market. We can potentially eat balanced and healthy by eating local and in season or by adding some foods purchased from countries and companies that practice good ecological sustainabilty. It is a personal choice and not something that always clear on what is the right balance. Awareness and knowledge help make nutrition and environmental choices that we are comfortable with.
If there is more to this story that I haven’t mentioned or if you have comments, feedback or have thoughts on a plant diet and the environment, please add them to the “leave a reply” section below. Thanks for your continued support on this important subject.