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A kitchen-table solution to climate change


As a practicing dietitian for nearly two decades, I’ve helped thousands of patients on their trajectories to a healthier life. They all have the same goals: to be healthy and to participate in their own lives and the lives of their families. 

As a climate and food-security researcher and reporter, I share that goal to be healthy, and to see a healthy planet that allows my son to participate in his life and in his future.

Now, what if I told you it’s possible to be healthier and be part of the climate solution all at once? All you need is a diet based on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts, seeds and legumes — one that is limited in ultra-processed foods, sugar, salt and animal products. 

This type of diet — dubbed by my friend and colleague T. Colin Campbell as a whole-food, plant-based diet (WFPB) — has shown itself in numerous, rigorous studies to lower the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, and to offer nearly a 20 percent reduction in premature mortality, adding more life to your days and more days to your life. WFPB diets have more fiber, more than enough protein, and plenty of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds to keep you full, as well as help with weight loss or maintenance.

This diet is also part of the climate solution because it lowers greenhouse gas emissions from the meals we eat by up to 70 percent. That’s like taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road every day! In addition, it saves hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water (per person, every year) and reduces the need for deforestation.  

In the U.S., most individuals eat at least 250 pounds of animal products each yearfour times more than individuals in developing countries and more than twice the recommended amount of protein (0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight). Expensive and mostly avoidable chronic diseases are the most common causes of death here, and animals produce the majority of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Changing our meals can make a world of difference. 

Our planet gives us the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the lifegiving soil for the foods we eat. We would be best served if we treated Earth as an extension of our body and as an extension of our health — we are a part of Earth, not apart from Earth. 

So, on this Earth Day, and the days following, let’s try something different. Eat foods that come directly from the soil, to nourish your body and to help save the planet.

Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., is a senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, an assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and the author of “Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life” (Cambridge University Press, 2022). 

Tags Climate change Earth Day plant-based diet

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