IS IT GOOD TO EAT PLANTS?
Author: Millennia TEA’s Official Science Steeper - Allison Tannis, MSc RHN
Exploring the Research About Sustainable and Health Impacts of Eating Plants
What you eat has a profound impact on your health and the planet. It’s well known that is it healthy to eat plants, but what does the research say about the health impacts of our plant-eating ways? Or, how our choices to eat more plants are impacting the environment? Explore the fascinating science behind the plants we eat, discover some unusual plants you can eat, and ways to eat more sustainably.
Is it Good to Eat Plants?
Growing global populations are increasing the demand for food, while environmental data suggests our current worldwide food consumption practices, high in meat and dairy, are not sustainable. When we eat plants in comparison to animal proteins, we are choosing a more sustainable food. Plant-based meals use fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment, report scientists.
4 Unusual Plants You Can Eat
These so-called weeds are edible: enjoy delicious young dandelion greens and raw flowers in salads. Researchers have noted dandelions have some interesting anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and blood sugar balancing effects. Maybe it’s worth looking closer at this commonly despised plant.
- Tea Leaves
Commonly dried and used to make tea, eating tea leaves is delicious and becoming the most popular, powerful green superfood of our time. Add them to your smoothies or top your salad or soup with fresh tea leaves, as there’s 15x more epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in eating fresh tea leaves than drinking dry leaf tea. EGCG is the most abundant catechin in fresh tea leaves. EGCG increases antioxidant enzymes in the body, and inhibits signals that promote inflammation.
Wild violets that pop up in your yard, or pansies are edible flowers. Pansies are sources of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), and anthocyanins, which are well-known plant-based antioxidants.
An old variety of strawberry, these white berries taste like a cross between a pineapple and a strawberry: try growing them in your garden for a twist on the usual. Strawberries contain vitamin C, and high amounts of ellagic acid, an antioxidant.
Is it Healthy to Eat Plants More Often?
Health experts from Harvard Medical School say science shows the more meat we eat, the higher our risk for disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Should we stop eating meat? Not necessarily – what you eat is a personal choice. Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2017), notes that even eating a few more plants in exchange for meat (3% plant protein swap for meat proteins in your diet) can lower the risk of death by 19%.
Is It Sustainable and Healthy to Eat Plants?
Yes, eating plants is not only healthy for you but a sustainable choice too! In a fascinating study, researchers noted how foods linked with improved adult health also tend to have low environmental impacts. The report published in the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also noted foods with the greatest environmental impacts were linked with a higher risk of developing diseases, accounting for 40% of global mortality. When you eat plants it’s a healthy choice for you and the planet.
There may be more to this story, according to the World Wildlife Federation summary report on the impacts of our food system on the environment and our nutritional health. There appear to be nutritional health implications of how we are producing food. Estimates suggest you would have to eat 6 extensively reared chickens today to get the same nutritional omega-3 fatty acids found in a chicken in the 1970s. Studies suggest farmed fish are also noting similar declines in their omega-3 content. On the other side of the plate, a critical review of the nutritional content of plants suggests that eating the recommended daily servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains has benefits, particularly as a way to increase the supply of food for the expanding population.
5 Tips to Eat Sustainable & Healthy
It’s both a healthy and sustainable choice to choose to eat plants. When looking for ways to eat that are sustainable and healthy, consider these 5 tips:
- Eating plants often.
- Buy foods with credible certified standards, such as Direct Trade*, which protects farmers and workers in developing countries from inequalities in compensation.
- Enjoy a variety of foods to balance demand on the food system.
- Get creative with leftovers to reduce food waste.
- Consume plant-based proteins (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds) to help moderate your meat consumption.
*Our farmer partner at Millennia Tea was named the fairest fair trader in the world in 2014.
Hungry to Learn More?
At Millennia Tea we are committed to using science and research to bring to your freezer the healthiest tea leaves, in the most sustainable way, that is good for our planet and the people who live on it. If you like to research as much as we do, enjoy these links to scientific journals and expert reports:
Sustainability of plant-based diets: back to the future. Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014 June; 476S-482S.
The importance of food systems and the environment for nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2021 Jan; 1(113): 7-16.
Appetite for destruction: summary report. World Wildlife Federation, 2017.
Multiple health and environmental impacts of food. Proced Nat Acad Sci of USA, 2019 Nov;116 (46): 23357-23362.
Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all-cause mortality in a general population of middle-aged adults. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2019; e012865.
Mineral nutrient composition of vegetables, fruits and grains: the context of reports of apparent historical declines. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 2017 Mar; 56: 93-103.
Association between dietary factors and mortality from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the United States. Journal of the American Heart Association 2017 Mar; 317 (9): 912-924.
The physiological effects of dandelion (Taraxacum officiale) in type 2 diabetes. Review of Diabetic Studies, 2016, 13 (2-3): 113-131.
Potential therapeutic targets of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most abundant catechin in green tea, and its role in the therapy of various types of cancer. Molecules 2020 Jul; 25(14): 3146.
Nutritional and nutraceutical composition of pansies (Viola × wittrockiana) during flowering. Journal of Food Science 2019, Feb: 84(3): 490-498.
Volatile constituents and ellagic acid formation in strawberry fruits of selected cultivars. Food Research International, 2020 Dec: 138(a);109767.
Ellagic acid in strawberry (Fragaria spp.): Biological, technological, stability, and human health aspects. Food Quality and Safety, 2017 Dec: 1(4);227-252.