Friday, June 14, 2024

Impact of plant-based food on the environment, economy, and health

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Swathi Gopalakrishnan & Srimita S
Swathi Gopalakrishnan & Srimita S
Swathi Gopalakrishnan is CEO, Protivore & Srimita S is Food Technologist, Protivore - a part of NSRCEL Women Entrepreneurship Program

With the gradual increase in the number of people trying plant-based food options, it is crucial to note the environmental, economical and health aspects of plant-based food.

Plant-based diets are gaining popularity among the people, although the topic still remains a matter of debate today. Is this beneficial for the environment? What is its impact on the human body and our ecosystem? What benefits can ensue from embracing the concept of plant-based food?

As plant-based diets continue to evolve, consumer expectations around it show a positive sign, pointing toward the overall growth of this sector. With the gradual increase in the number of people trying plant-based food options, it is crucial to note the environmental, economical and health aspects of plant-based food.

Paving the way for sustainability

Compared with traditional meat-based food, the consumption of plant-based foods is considered to be more environment-friendly.

Environmental evidence about the non-sustainability of the current eating habits that predominantly consist of meat and dairy products is mounting. In addition to the increasing pollution levels, the use of non-renewable resources has also led to resource scarcity. People are also transitioning to plant-based diets because of the growing global population and the related food security challenges.

Switching to a plant balanced diet (PBD) can reduce land food use by 76%, food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 49%, eutrophication by 49%, and green and blue water use by 21% and 14% respectively, while providing significant health benefits.

Biodiversity loss may also be mitigated by the consumption of plant foods. Reductions in the use of land for agriculture and livestock purposes will be greatly enhanced by changing diets.

Influence on the economy

It is encouraging to remember that reducing meat consumption is always good for the people and the world. In the next decade, due to the increasing consumer interest in food and the availability of fresh produce, India’s plant-based food industry is expected to grow.

An analysis conducted by Deloitte and the Good Food Institute India takes into account the categories of plant-based dairy, meat, and eggs in the research for the domestic market. Plant-based dairy is expected to be one of the largest industries, with an estimated value of $623 million to $1.4 billion (Rs. 4,827 to Rs. 10,625 crore). An estimated $233 million to $759 million (Rs. 1,803 crore to Rs. 5,884 crore in Indian rupees) will be spent on the plant-based meat business. With projections ranging from $68 million to $183 million (approximately Rs. 527 crore to Rs. 1,416 crore in Indian rupees), the market for plant-based eggs will be the smallest. Although the export market for India’s plant-based industry is predicted to be significant by 2030, the market for plant-based meat is anticipated to be bigger than that of milk.

Food innovation, increasing consumer demand, and the support of a large number of actors will speed up and sustain global market expansion. Due to increasing public awareness of health and the environment, consumers will become more interested in the plant food sector. So, there is a high possibility that many food processing companies will invest in this field for production and equipment. According to a survey, 42% of the respondents believe that many people will move toward plant-based foods in the next 10 years. This survey shows the economic impact of plant-based foods in India.

Health implications

A whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet is one that is mainly composed of unprocessed or minimally processed vegan foods. The aim of a WFPB diet is to eat nutrient-dense plant foods which include a lot of vegetables and fruits, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, seed, peanut and whole grains like wheat. Overall, the available data imply that vegetarian and vegan diets help prevent heart disease.

According to many studies, vegetarians have a lower BMI than people with other food practices. Studies have shown that those who eat less meat have a lower risk of diabetes due to their lower body mass. It is notable that vegetarians are not very prone to food-related cancer (colon cancer).The benefits of plant foods provide motivation for the public to seek advice on the health aspects of plant-based food, particularly in the prevention of premature deaths and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.

Plant-based food manufacturers are not only focused on replenishing vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies but also on raising the probiotic and fibre-content in the food. This is addressed by the fortification of nutrients in plant-based foods by the brands to provide consumers with a much-needed nutritional profile.

After all, the transition to a vegetarian diet is a change with far-reaching consequences. Faced with environmental degradation, public health concerns, and economic challenges, the use of plant-based foods seems like a solution.

To improve the availability of plant-based food products, collaboration between government, industry, and communities is essential. Awareness programmes and policies will be helpful to drive policy change and increase public understanding of the benefits of plant-based food. As we appreciate the culinary aspect of this revolution, we see a culture flourishing that promotes diverse food choices while emphasizing health and sustainability.

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