When it comes to diet, if you follow recommendations on eating sustainably, then you will also be benefiting your health. This is because sustainable diets involve eating less meat and more plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole-grains (1). If you want to greatly diminish your environmental impact through diet, you’ll also get to enjoy the added and impressive benefit of reducing your risk of a whole host of lifestyle diseases. In this way, caring about the environment means caring about your present and future health and wellbeing.
Moreover, while some people are put off eating sustainably because of worries that doing so is expensive, it’s worth noting that dealing with lifestyle diseases can be extremely costly. It costs the individual seeking private treatment and taking time off work, and it costs everyone else in terms of publicly funded treatment.
Taking care of your body
No matter how finely tuned and evidence-based your diet is, this won’t prevent you from becoming ill, or suffering the health effects associated with ageing. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of your body. It’s your only body. And you have only one life. Your physical health is deeply connected to your mental health (2). Suffering from cancer can create anxiety (3), and many mental illnesses can shorten your life expectancy (4).
Everyone would rather feel energised, happy, focused and stress-free than the opposite. But many people often fail to see or understand the link between bodily health and mental wellbeing. Indeed, there seems to be an interesting aspect to the concept of health, in that promoting one kind of health, in general, seems to promote other kinds. Taking care of your body means taking care of your mind, which also means taking care of the environment, other people and animals.
But even from a purely self-centred point of view, if you want to avoid personal suffering, then avoiding the immediate gratification of a beef burger is wise. It’s important to defer gratification, so that we can live happier lives overall.
How Not to Die is a booked written by Dr Michael Greger, founder of NutritionFacts.org. In it, Greger looks at the fifteen top causes of premature death in America: heart disease (the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women; 5), lung diseases, brain diseases, digestive cancers, infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver diseases, blood cancers, kidney disease, breast cancer, suicidal depression, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and iatrogenic causes.
Greger explains that changes in diet can sometimes be more effective than prescription pills, as well as other pharmaceutical approaches and surgical treatment. In addition, these dietary changes, in many cases, are far more sustainable than the diet responsible for the chronic disease in question. For example, Greger, as well as physicians such as Caldwell Esselstyn, recommend a whole-food, plant-based diet for preventing and reversing heart disease.
In the highly acclaimed book The China Study, author Colin T. Campbell illustrates that following the American diet (high in meat, dairy and refined sugar) leads to a higher risk of ‘diseases of affluence’ (i.e. obesity; 6). In contrast, Campbell found that those people in China who eat a mainly plant-based diet had a significantly lower incidence of such diseases. As the research shows, eating less meat and dairy, and more plant-based foods, carries enormous environmental benefits (7).
Image credit: Wikipedia
As mentioned before, eating in a sustainable way will save you and everyone else a lot of money. By 2030, it is estimated that the global cost of cardiovascular disease (CVD) will be $1,044bn (in terms of both direct healthcare costs and productivity losses). Lifestyle and dietary choices are resulting in a staggering waste of money. Furthermore, the kind of diet leading to CVD is also devastating the environment, which necessarily incurs financial costs, since we depend on the environment for resources.
The more we know about the connection between sustainability and health, and understand the serious long-term consequences of current dietary trends, then the easier it will be to make a positive change in our lives.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a writer who is especially interested in space exploration, sustainability, animal agriculture, nutrition, wellbeing and smart drugs. He is also currently writing a book about the psychedelic drug DMT.