Organic Vegetables Display at a Whole Food Market in LaJolla, California in this May 13, 2008 file photo. REUTERS / Mike Blake / Folders

An unusual landscape of intergenerational life, climate crises, pandemic weight gain and even boredom made 2020 ripe for an increase in plant-based diets. Invented by a scientist at the National Institutes of Health in 1980, the term “plant-based” is more comprehensive than “vegetarian” or “vegan” – not to mention popular – focusing on a healthy diet that places foods of origin plant at the top of the meal without stopping consuming all animal products all the time.

At the height of the pandemic, most American households bought plant-based foods — with the best-selling coming from dairy alternatives, such as oat or almond milk, and from meat alternatives such as Impossible Soy-based Burger or seitan of wheat origin. Today, 1 in 4 Americans still report eating more protein from plant sources than in the spring of 2020, including foods like quinoa, lentils and tempeh, pushing the plant industry by more than $ 7 billion into what many are betting that is the future of American cuisine Me

In March 2020, Leon Pasadyn, 57, welcomed his daughter Felicia, 19, home to Hinckley, Ohio, from college to complete the distance semester. Although he was accustomed to eating one or two meals of meat each day, he agreed to “walk with the flow” after Felicia experimented with a plant-based diet. As he shared her creations, his meat intake quickly dropped to once or twice a month.

“Now my dad likes to make hamburgers with black beans and chickpea pasta himself,” Felicia says with a laugh.

Pasadyn had high cholesterol for which he was taking statin medication. Two months after adopting his plant-based daughter routine, he was amazed to find that his lipid cholesterol level had improved significantly.

“They were the best numbers I ever had,” he recalls. Although Felicia returned to college later this summer, Pasadyn is sticking to his new habit.

The health benefits of a plant-based diet, including lowering the risk of heart disease, play a large role in its growing popularity. Regular consumption of meat is associated with an increased risk of other conditions such as aspneumonia, diverticular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. And during the pandemic, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that a healthy plant-based diet was linked to reducing the serious risk of Covid-19.

In a study of over half a million survey participants published in September in Gut, scientists found that eating healthy plant-based foods reduced the severe risk of Covid-19 by 41%, even after checking for a number of factors.

The study showed that higher diets in “healthy plant-based” foods, such as whole grains or vegetables, were more beneficial than those containing less healthy plant-based groups, such as potatoes and fruit juices, or those containing higher animal-based food groups, such as seafood and dairy.

These findings remained even after maintaining other medical conditions and behaviors such as physical activity and constant smoking, but the analysis could not take into account all possible external influences. For example, people who eat a plant-based diet may also be more likely to have better home conditions or access to health care. Moreover, because the study was observational, it could not confirm cause and effect.

“What we have learned over the past year and a half is that the risk and severity of Covid are not evenly distributed throughout the population,” said Jordi Merino, a medical instructor at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study. He tried to understand why certain groups — the elderly or those with cardiovascular problems, for example — were more likely to receive Covid-19 and suffer from a more serious illness.

“We realized that perhaps a common underlying theme among all of these factors was diet,” he said.

Still due to study limitations, Merino warns against over-interpreting the results. “Do not think you can eat two pieces of fruit a day and your risk from Covid will decrease,” he said. “But perhaps the severity of the disease and its complications can be reduced through public health measures that include healthy foods.”

Diet affects immunity through nutrients that support antibiotic and antiviral protection, as well as through the microbiome.

“We are colonized by microbes, and those colonizing patterns train the immune system to recognize which microbes are friends and which microbes are enemies,” said Noel Mueller, assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Plant-based diets, rich in fiber, are well-established stimulants of a diversified ecosystem of beneficial intestinal bacteria, although more studies are needed to uncover a benefit mechanism in Covid-19.

Mueller finds the findings of the Gut study “intriguing”, guaranteeing additional research to further clarify any relationship between plant-based food and Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Merino points out wearing masks and getting the vaccine as the most effective ways to reduce the individual risk of Covid-19. Study participants were recruited in March 2020 and followed until December 2020, before the start of national vaccines.

Eating plant-based diets can also positively impact climate change, which a pandemic-stricken humanity proved to be inseparable from health during the once-in-a-century event. Recent record heat waves, raging fires, and numerous locusts have greatly galvanized the environment — particularly millennials and Gen Z, who are major adopters of plant-based foods.

The idea that plant-based foods could help alleviate our climate crises prompted Ayr Muir, a MIT scientist, to start Clover Food Labs in 2008. His plant-based restaurants grew rapidly throughout the area. of Boston, targeting not vegans or vegetarians but carnivores.

At a typical lunch hour, Clover eaters raise the main products like a chickpea sandwich consisting of fresh falafel, pickled carrots and red cabbage on an organic humus pad, as well as favorites like the sweet and sticky cauliflower sandwich: a look at the peach-flavored Indochina Manchurian goby from West Massachusetts. With its attractive, creative menu, Clover’s customer base is 90% non-vegetarian, Muir said.

“The main mission is global warming. And what we’re trying to do is help meat lovers eat more meals that have no meat in them,” Muir said. “The more success we have with this, the more impact we have on the environment.”

Like the fossil fuel industry, “big meat” has made great efforts to challenge climate science in the last two decades, including millions of dollars in political campaigns. And 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Animal farming causes 17,900 deaths a year, or 80% of all deaths related to food pollution — more than those related to pollution from coal-fired power plants.

JJ Reidy, co-founder and CEO of Baltimore-based sustainable development firm Urban Pastoral, says the meat industry footprint could be weakened by changing the way the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes food. He co-founded an elegant plant-based restaurant, STEM Farm + Kitchen, in one of the city’s many thriving post-industrial neighborhoods, providing ingredients from hydroponic greenhouses near his firm.

He acknowledges that customers can buy elsewhere “a whole chicken for $ 5”, but that STEM green cups have a fair price given market and federal-level policies.

“We underestimate the ingredients exponentially because of the environmental cost of producing them,” Reidy said. “We almost have to reformulate how we’s thinking about the question. It’s [plant-based] expensive price or is it our concept of what food should cost out of risk? “

According to a survey by the Good Food Institute, households earning less than $ 35,000 spend less on plant-based foods in grocery stores. Unequal access to food has long been linked to health inequalities among poor communities. The study by Merino and colleagues also found that plant-based diets created the greatest impact on the risk of coronavirus severity among those living in deprived areas.

As public interest in plant-based options grows, major corporations have come a long way since Burger King unveiled its impossible Whopper in 2019.

Panda Express’s Beyond Meat replacement for his orange chicken sold out less than two weeks after it was introduced in Southern California in late July. Chipotle recently began testing a pea-based plant-based option, its second meatless alternative since introducing Sofritas in 2014. Last year, Kentucky Fried Chicken, a synonymous brand of good, fried chicken -longed proofs of a plant-based particle from Beyond Meat.

“We do not think plant-based is a fad, we think it is something that will continue to grow over time,” Kevin Hochman, KFC president and chief concept officer, said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Experts predict that the plant-based food market will be estimated at over $ 162 billion by 2030, driven by the increased pandemic awareness of health and the environment. Reidy is convinced that more and more people will branch out simply because they like the taste.

“Plant-based cooking should not be this moral label. Delicious is delicious in itself, “Reidy said.” I want someone to come just because the food is good. “

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Trisha Pasricha is a journalist, physician and gastroenterology researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital.