Plant-Based Diet? An Opportunity for Us and the Planet

The plant-based diet primarily consumes plant-based foods, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It involves the intake of these foods and other natural products. The latter is not industrially processed, are not treated, and benefit from exploiting resources and animals.

A plant-based diet is a correct approach to life, choosing healthy 0 km products rich in essential nutrients and attention to sustainability.

What Is It All About?

There are various dietary patterns related to vegetarianism:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, those who include dairy products and eggs in their diet;
  • Lacto-vegetarians, unlike the previous ones who exclude eggs;
  • Ovo-vegetarians, they take eggs but not dairy products;
  • Partial vegetarians (also called fish-vegetarians or chicken-vegetarians) avoid eating red meat but can eat fish and chicken;

Veganism is different, an “animal-free” diet that excludes from the diet animal products (meat, fish, and insects) and its derivatives (eggs, dairy products, and honey). The decision to undertake a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is primarily an ethical and environmental choice. However, the models presented are somewhat restrictive and inflexible and not necessarily aligned with the needs of much of the population.

On the contrary, a plant-based diet leaves a lot of room for individual tastes without making any significant sacrifices. This is precisely one of the reasons why the plant-based diet is a fast-growing trend, especially among the Millennials and Z Generations, posing itself as a food plan that is not exclusively plant-based. In fact, animal products and their derivatives are allowed in moderate quantities.
This dietary model, or lifestyle, is commonly defined as the “flexitarian” diet.

What Benefits Does a “Flexitarian” Diet Provide?

Plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, vegetable oils, and whole grains are essential components of the Mediterranean Diet. Numerous scientific studies show that the nutrients contained in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, such as dietary fiber, folic acid, flavonoids, carotenoids, antioxidants (and many others), reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD).

On the other hand, nuts are particularly rich in fats: hazelnuts have a total fat content of about 64g/100g, walnuts about 68g/100g. However, they are very rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids, poly-unsaturated, and sources of omega-3; in fact, it is scientifically proven that diets rich in nuts significantly reduce LDL cholesterol (vulgarly known as “bad” cholesterol) and decrease the ratio between total and HDL cholesterol, “good” cholesterol. In fact, in Mediterranean countries where olive oil (one of the primary sources of oleic acid, mono-unsaturated fatty acid) is the primary source of fat, the mortality rate for coronary heart disease is significantly reduced.
These are just a few examples of the benefits that a plant-based flexitarian diet can bring to our health.

Towards Sustainability, One Bite at a Time

These days, growing awareness and concern about climate change are at the center of every international debate. Food systems have a strong environmental impact throughout the entire supply chain from production to consumption. For this reason, it is essential to consider how a plant-based diet can positively contribute to a more responsible lifestyle. Animal products, mainly those processed industrially, have a more significant environmental impact on energy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water, and land use. Just think that to produce 1 kg of animal protein, 100 times more moisture is used than to produce 1 kg of wheat protein.

It is interesting to observe Graph 1 – which shows the expenditure of resources (GHG emissions, energy, water, and land) calculated on the Mediterranean Diet. This expenditure is more significant for animal-based products than for vegetable-based products. The contribution of cereals is more remarkable because it is correlated to the high consumption of this diet but less than that linked to animal-based products.

Graph 1. GHG resource expenditure [KgCo2eq]; energy [MJ], water [L]; land [m2] in the Mediterranean Diet.

To conclude, it is, therefore, necessary to favor the change towards a plant-based diet if you prefer “flexitarian,” increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts while considerably reducing that of processed sugars and red meat. A flexible diet like the one proposed above represents an excellent compromise to approach sustainability in one’s daily life.

It is essential to convey the message that each of us can contribute significantly to sustainable development through small measures. Sustainability must not represent a problem linked to sacrifices but an opportunity for growth and well-being for us and the planet.

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