Meat and dairy are two of the biggest dietary contributors to the environmental impact of an omnivore’s diet.
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the meat industry alone generates nearly 1/5 of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide. Additionally, these foods are typically high in nutrients that most Americans need to reduce, such as saturated fat and sodium, and low in health promoting nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Even small changes to your diet can make a big difference. It’s estimated that if every American went meatless just one day per week, the carbon savings would be equal to taking 19.2 million cars off the road for one year! Pair that with the health benefits of eating more plant-based meals, like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer as well as weight management, and that’s some motivation to reduce animal product consumption.
There are many meat and dairy alternatives that are easier on the environment, better for your health, and delicious. Here are some examples of replacements for typical animal-based foods.
Milk, yogurt, and ice cream: There has never been an easier time to find replacements for dairy products made from soy, almonds (and other nuts), rice, oats, and hemp. They all have their own unique flavor and texture, so don’t be discouraged if one isn’t the right fit for you. If you enjoy these products regularly, choose those that are unsweetened and be aware that they don’t have the same protein content as milk and, unless fortified, will not offer the same amount of vitamin D and calcium.
Cheese: Many look to cheese to finish off foods with that yum factor. Instead of choosing soy cheeses, which are often highly processed, try using nut cheese varieties that are less processed, fermented tofu products,and nutritional yeast to get your umami on.
Burgers: Enjoy those made from beans and legumes paired with whole grains, mushrooms, eggplant, or a combination. Add spices or herbs and finish with toppings such as fermented vegetables, avocado, and tasty condiments to add flavor.
Deli meat: Think no sandwich is complete without deli meat? Think again! There are many ways to create a protein-packed sandwich or wrap with plant-based foods. Try using hummus and other bean spreads, fresh or roasted vegetables, pesto, nut butters, seed butters, tofu, and tempeh. Pack on your favorite crunchy vegetables — think beyond lettuce and tomato to radishes, julienned carrots, cucumbers, beets, and more — to take your sandwich to the next level.
Other meat products: There are many items on the market intended to mimic the taste and texture of meat. While they can be tasty, they are often high in sodium, low in other nutrients, and may contain ingredients that you’d be better off not consuming, so enjoy them sparingly. Instead, choose whole plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and other protein-rich whole grains. For the protein content of different plants, read more here.