Our current eating habits not only favor the development of many chronic diseases, but they also exert enormous pressures on the environment. Simple changes to our diet could lead to extraordinary benefits, both for the health of the population and that of the world in which we live.
When we discuss the impact of human activity on global warming, we generally think of greenhouse gases generated by automobiles and industry (coal-fired power plants, cement factories, etc.). The CO2 produced by the combustion of these fossil fuels of course contributes to climate change, but these gases are far from being the only ones responsible: we very often ignore it, but our food choices also have a huge impact on the environment.
Producing 250 g of beef pollutes as much as 15 minutes by car
Perhaps the best example is the intensive animal husbandry necessary for large-scale meat production. Did you know that producing 250g of beef releases as much greenhouse gas as a 15 km car ride? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), meat consumption contributes up to 22% of the greenhouse gases produced globally each year. More than the emissions from all the cars, planes, trains and ships in the world combined! Eating meat therefore has an enormous environmental cost, with each gram of meat protein from ruminants (beef, lamb) generating 250 times more greenhouse gases than one gram of protein from legumes.
We can’t go on like this
With the exception of India, where 40% of the population consumes no or very few animals for religious reasons, meat consumption has exploded in most regions of the world, particularly in Asia. This increase is a consequence of urbanization and the increase in the incomes of these populations, which have favored the rejection of traditional eating habits and the adoption of the typical diet of industrialized countries, i.e. rich in meat, fat and refined sugar. These changes are likely to have a major impact on the environment in the coming years: according to a recent analysis, greenhouse gas emissions caused by intensive agriculture and livestock farming will increase by 80% by 2050 And that’s without taking into account the massive use of drinking water reserves, the deforestation of tropical forests and the extinction of many animal species that accompany the excessive industrialization of food. We must therefore be realistic and admit that it is practically impossible to maintain the current way of eating without profoundly affecting the world in which future generations will live.
In addition to this negative impact on the environment, the current diet has catastrophic repercussions on the health of the world’s population. In addition to affecting the population of industrialized countries, all the countries, without exception, which have adopted these new eating habits must come to terms with a greater proportion of overweight… and sick individuals: excess fat is indeed a important risk factor for all chronic diseases, in particular, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and certain cancers.
Type 2 diabetes was virtually non-existent in China in 1980 (0.1% of the population), this disease now affects 10% of Chinese. 22 million new annual cases of cancer will affect developing countries in 2030, twice as many as today, a direct consequence of metabolic disorders and chronic inflammation that are generated by excess weight. Colorectal cancer is a good example: a disease that was practically non-existent before the industrialization of food, this cancer is closely linked to overweight and excessive consumption of meat and is therefore on the rise in most countries that adopt modern eating habits.
However, this situation is not irreversible, both in terms of the health of populations and that of the environment. The simple fact of consuming less meat and more plants, for example by adopting a Mediterranean diet, considerably reduces the risk of chronic diseases and is at the same time associated with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The most important thing is to realize that we are an integral part of the planetary ecosystem and that our health is therefore closely linked to the health of the entire food chain and the world in which we live.
Tilman D and Clark M. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature 515: 518-22.
* The information and services available on pressesante.com do not in any way replace the consultation of competent health professionals. [HighProtein-Foods.com]