Can You Eat Low-Carb & Still Protect the Environment? – Diabetes Daily

Sam Sifton, an esteemed food editor at The New York Times, once wrote a piece entitled, “What to Cook in A Changing Climate.” The premise of Sifton’s article was simple: How do we minimize our carbon footprint based on the foods we eat?

The growing consensus among environmental activists, climate scientists, and nutritionists is that the amount of cows, pigs, and chickens the typical American eats is not sustainable for the environment and our health, yet meat is often, albeit not always, a staple in low-carb, ketogenic lifestyles.

According to the US Department of Food and Agriculture, the average American was projected to eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry last year, not to mention eating almost double the USDA’s daily recommendation of 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein, much of which includes eggs, dairy, and cheese.

Which begs the question: Is leading a low-carb lifestyle mutually exclusive from being a good environmental steward?

Not necessarily, of course, which many vegetarians and vegans know firsthand, but how exactly do we omnivores strike a balance between eating for one’s health and eating for the wellbeing of the planet?

Turns out the answer may rest in several potential low-carb food and lifestyle choices, some of which are plant-based. Other dietary approaches ask consumers to go beyond an all-or-nothing approach to eating meat, but to instead be selective about the type and amount of meat in our diets and to find fulfillment beyond hamburgers and brisket.

Here are a few ways people with diabetes are protecting their health, wellness, and the environment, all at the same time:

Meatless Alternatives for All

As Allison Caggia once reported for Diabetes Daily: “By creating this meatless burger (which clocks in at 5 grams of carbohydrates per burger), Impossible Burger uses a fraction of the Earth’s resources. Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water,  and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Beyond the much-discussed Impossible Burgers, of course, there are a host of other meatless, low-carb options to try: Beyond Meat, MorningStar Farms, Gardein, Tofurky, Yves Veggie Cuisine, among many others. While Beyond Meat is now a publicly traded company and Impossible Foods, the makers of Impossible Burgers, could be a $10 billion-dollar company, oftentimes restaurants and burger joints cannot keep up with the consumer demand for these crowd-pleasing meatless alternatives. 

And if you are at a loss for what meatless alternatives might look like with whole foods, consider Cookie + Kate’s “24 Meatless Recipes Carnivores Will Love.” Keep in mind that many times you can also substitute lower-carb options for tortillas, cauliflower “rice” for rice, and other creative low-carb hacks that allow guilt-free dining enjoyment.

How Going Vegan Can Improve Blood Sugar & Overall Health

Some years ago, co-founder and CEO of Diabetes Daily, David Edelman spoke with Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes. Barnard said:

In clinical trials, people with type 2 diabetes who eliminate animal products and build their diets from grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits soon find improvements in their weight, blood sugar control, lipids, and blood pressure. In our NIH-funded study, published in Diabetes Care in 2006, we found that the average drop in A1c in individuals with type 2 diabetes who began a low-fat vegan diet while keeping their medications constant was 1.2 absolute percentage points, which is obviously a major improvement.”

While the study Barnard references is now many years old, many more recent studies have shown similar results, leading some health authorities to endorse plant-based diets as a primary therapy for diabetes.

Dr. Michelle McMacken and Dr. Sapana Shah, authors of a 2017 article on the subject, write:

“Plant-based diets―i.e., eating patterns that emphasize legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds and discourage most or all animal products―are especially potent in preventing type 2 diabetes and have been associated with much lower rates of obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer.”

A win-win diet for our health and the environment!

Aiming to Be an Ethical Omnivore Is Not an Oxymoron

While having a waste-not-want-not approach to meal planning and eating quality meat helps reduce food waste, to be sure, there are also several ways to source meat more ethically, too. Pledge to buy and consume more locally and humanely raised meats and protein sources, whenever possible.

Some, of course, will consider eating meat of any kind to be unethical. Yet, by adopting a reducetarian or flexitarian diet, you can still make a big difference. Advocates for “Meatless Mondays” note that “skipping one serving of beef every Monday for a year saves the equivalent emissions to driving 348 miles in a car.”

Truly, small but concerted efforts in being selective about what we eat can help many of us safeguard and/or improve our health and the planet. Thinking strategically about how and why our food choices nourish us and the world we inhabit is perhaps one of the most fundamental ways we can make a difference in our own lives and our children’s future. 



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Author: Mabel Freeman