A switch to a plant-based protein could help tackle climate change and hunger, finds new research, with some legumes boasting a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio that is around five times higher than equivalent amounts of meat.
TRUE, an EU-funded project, has found evidence that switching diets towards plants as a source of protein as opposed to meat is much more sustainable for nature and human alike.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin, one of the TRUE project partners, scored legumes and pulses – such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas – by their environmental cost of production (including greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and land use) as well as their nutrient content.
Not surprisingly, the results clearly showed that plant protein sources had the lowest environmental production cost. But just as important is their high density of nutrients.
“Peas have a nutrient density to environmental footprint ratio approximately five times higher than equivalent amounts of lamb, pork, beef or chicken,” said Mike Williams, an assistant professor in Botany at Trinity.
This quantification means the research has a very practical value for the development of policy and ultimately consumer education.
“Such quantitative estimates of sustainable food and agriculture will hopefully allow a more informed choice for consumers when considering the main protein component of their diet,” added Williams.
These latest findings are important in light of the risks to society emerging from the global increase in animal protein consumption, including the heavy environmental footprint of livestock farming and increased food insecurity due to competition between food and feed on global fields, says Alicia Kolmans from the Research Centre for Global Food Security and Ecosystems in German.
The TRUE (Transition paths to sustainable legume based systems in Europe) project brings together 22 partners, representing business and society interests. It is further supported by a series of 15 farm networks.
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