Not a day goes by without hearing in the media, as much about the urgency to act to prevent increasing chronic diseases, as it is to limit climate change. Indeed, we live in a time when overconsumption destroys our health prematurely but also generates greenhouse gases that harm our survival on this planet.

One of the most effective in killing two birds with one stone, with respect to the environment and human health, is to promote a shift in the diet towards food of mainly plant origin.

It is a fact; we eat three times a day. It is therefore more or less a thousand times a year where, through our food choices, we can choose to help or harm our health, as well as that of our planet.

From a health point of view, science is unanimous and the World Health Organization confirms it in its recommendations: we must opt for a mainly plant-based diet in order to prevent cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer 1. Indeed, a well-planned vegetable diet rich in dietary fiber and certain nutrients (potassium, magnesium, folate, etc.), that of which Quebecers’ diet is currently deficient 2.

Also, the consumption of red meat was classified as probably carcinogenic and that of processed meat as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 3. Furthermore, the addition of antibiotics to the feed of farm animals as a growth factor contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans, a phenomenon which worries public health authorities 4.

From an environmental point of view, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the breeding of animals for human consumption worldwide is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 5. This percentage is even slightly higher than the GHG from transport-related emissions, all forms combined.

Also according to the FAO, agriculture is also the human activity requiring the largest land surface and is thus responsible for vast deforestation. The consequences are dramatic: loss of biodiversity, massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere, soil depletion, water pollution, etc.

In a manifesto published in November 2017 in the journal Bioscience and endorsed by 15,364 scientists from 184 countries, we can observe that among the most effective measures to reduce our ecological footprint and limit climate change, the reorientation of the diet towards food of mainly plant origin is one of the measures proposed 6.

It can no longer be denied that the raising of animals intended for human consumption causes significant environmental damage. Plant protein farming, on the other hand, fares much better: in particular, legumes and soy require less water and are responsible for lower greenhouse gas production than production of beef and other animal products. A team of researchers from the University of Oxford has shown that a vegetarian produces half the GHG than an omnivore!

In short, by choosing to partially or completely replace meat with vegetable proteins (legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds) on our plate, we are making a gesture of respect for our health, our habitat that is the earth as well as the animals.


Hélène Baribeau, nutritionist, clinician, speaker and co-author of the book: Ménager la chèvre et manger le chou, edition La Semaine, 2018.

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References :

  1. World Health Organization (n.d.). A Healthy Lifestyle. (En ligne) (Consultée le 6 août 2018).
  2. Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec (2009). La consommation alimentaire et les apports nutritionnels des adultes québécois. (En ligne) (Consultée le 6 août 2018)
  3. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Volume 114: Consumption of red meat and processed meat. IARC Working Group. Lyon; 6–13 September, 2015. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum (in press).
  4. American Journal of Public Health (2015). Antibiotics Overuse in Animal Agriculture: A Call to Action for Health Care Providers. December; 105(12): 2409–2410. Published online 2015 December. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302870
  5. Tackling ClimateChange throughLivestock. A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome 2013.
  6. William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, William F. Laurance, 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 12, 1 December 2017, Pages 1026–1028.