(NaturalHealth365) With our biosphere and our bodies under attack from a virtual barrage of pollutants – including heavy metals, EMF pollution, toxic pesticides, and GMOs – the philosophy of “going green” – choosing to act in environmentally responsible ways – truly seems the only sane reaction.
Although going green sometimes may feel like a futile response – a case of “too little, too late” – researchers say this is not the case; even modest adjustments in lifestyle can benefit our beleaguered environment. For example, emerging research has proven that adopting a plant-based diet is one of the “greenest” things you can do.
A “win-win” scenario: Vegetarian diets benefit both humans and the Earth
In a new study conducted at Loma Linda School of Health and published in the July 2014 edition of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that vegetarian diets not only prolong life, but reduce harmful “greenhouse gas” emissions by 32 percent – almost a third.
The team discovered that mortality rates for vegetarians were close to 20 percent lower than those for non-vegetarians – a very significant statistical difference, and proof of the ability of plant-based diets to extend life. Even those who identified as “semi-vegetarian” enjoyed benefits, with mortality rates similar to those of strict vegetarians.
Every little bit helps: Small changes to diet lead to big benefits
The study’s co-author, Sam Soret, Ph.D., MPH, noted that even small reductions in the consumption of animal-based foods carried significant environmental and health benefits. Simply modifying people’s consumption of animal-based products is a feasible technique to improve public health while mitigating current warming trends, asserted Soret, associate dean at the LLU School of Public Health.
Because of the extreme size and diversity of the population investigated, this study is the first of its kind.
To conduct the study, the team analyzed data from the Adventist Health Study, a large-scale epidemiological investigation of the nutritional habits of more than 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists throughout North America.
Researchers, who analyzed the nutrition habits and health outcomes of more than 73,000 of the AHS participants, noted that Seventh-day Adventists are a particularly good choice for study subjects because they are a multiethnic, geographically diverse group.
Seventh-day Adventists, an evangelical Christian denomination, strongly recommend a healthy, vegetarian diet; drinking and smoking are forbidden. For the purposes of the study, beef, lamb, pork, poultry and fish were all categorized as “meat.” Vegetarians were defined as never, or very rarely, consuming meats, while semi-vegetarians were categorized as those who ate meat more than once a month, but less than once weekly. Non-vegetarians were those who ate meat at least once a week.
People eating plant-based diets have a smaller “carbon footprint”
In addition to examining the participants’ nutritional habits, the team used computer software to estimate the emissions of deleterious “greenhouse gases” – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The vegetarian diet resulted in decreased emissions from livestock. Some scientists believe that livestock emissions can trigger warming trends and raise temperatures worldwide.
The conclusion: Human nutritional needs must be re-assessed.
The clear-cut benefits of the vegetarian diet led the researchers to advocate for a large-scale adoption of plant-based diets to improve health and increase food security and sustainability, especially in light of present threats to the environment and current global population growth. In fact, the team called for a re-evaluation of human nutritional needs.
It is only fairly recently in history that people have become dependent on animal products, points out study co-author Joan Sabate, PhD, a nutrition professor at Loma Linda University. Throughout the ages, says Sabate, sizable sections of the world’s population have thrived on plant-based diets, whether by necessity or conscious choice.
Vegetarian diets lower risk of high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease
Of course, the benefits of sharply reducing – or eliminating – meat in the diet have long been known to nutrition experts, natural food advocates and scientists. A cohort study conducted by University of Oxford and published in 2013 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that vegetarians slash their risk of heart disease by 32 percent, as well as demonstrating lower BMIs, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes risk than those who eat meat.
And, a review published in 2014 in Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine – which analyzed seven different clinical trials and 32 studies – supported a vegetarian diet’s ability to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
With the increasing scarcity of natural, non-renewable resources, researchers warn that food security and food sustainability are currently on a collision course with disaster. The decision to “go meatless” is not only a “green” choice, but a healthy, logical and moral one.