Choosing Proteins Responsibly Amid Increasing Water Scarcity
On August 28, 2014, The Atlantic contributed to the concerns of the impact of almond production on California’s water supply with its publication of “Dark Side of Almond Use.” BBC added to the growing literature in its November 15, 2014 “How almonds are sucking California dry.” Statements shedding light on California as the world’s largest producer of almonds and that the state is experiencing its third consecutive year of drought are facts. However, it is important to consider multiple perspectives.
Before swearing off almonds for environmental or political reasons, consider the following example. One serving of almonds (one ounce or 23 nuts) requires approximately 25.3 gallons of water. While this quantity of water might sound alarming in isolation, it seems minimal when compared to other agricultural produce, particularly meats. This same one serving or one ounce of poultry commands 31.25 gallons and between 750 to 3,375 gallons of water for hamburger meat (source: United States Geological Survey | Water Science School).
In fact, most plant-based proteins use fewer resources to include water, land, and fossil fuels than animal-based proteins altogether. Almond production emits far less chemicals and pesticides into the environment than livestock production. In addition to reducing one’s personal carbon footprint, there are myriad health and nutrition benefits to choosing plant proteins over animal proteins.
Proteins are macronutrients comprised of long amino acid chains necessary for energy production, organ tissue repair, and proper brain function. While the human body can produce some of these amino acids on its own, nine essential amino acids are acquired through animal- or plant-based foods. Animal proteins can be found in meats, eggs, and dairy products. Plant proteins are found in nuts, seeds, and beans.
While there is truth in animal-based proteins more often than not existing as a complete protein (possessing all nine essential amino acids), it does not mean that it more nutritional than its plant-based counterpart. Several plant-based proteins like soy, quinoa, and sea vegetables fall into the category of complete proteins as well. Hemp seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids.
A more holistic snapshot of animal versus plant proteins urges health-conscientious consumers to look not only at protein content, but nutritional facts in their entirety. Choosing a variety of plant-based proteins ensures getting all essential amino acids without the saturated fats and dietary cholesterol in animal-based proteins, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Nutrient-dense nuts like almonds provide a clean plant protein along with other nutrition benefits such as vitamins and minerals. Almonds also boast high fiber content, making it easy for the body to digest while conserving energy.
A diet with diverse plant-based proteins makes sense from an environmental, health, and nutrition perspective. Nuts, seeds, and beans offer the body numerous advantages on top of proteins. Unlike many animal products, no growth hormones or antibiotics are used in their production. Plant proteins promote more sustainable food production and impact on the environment. When planning protein intake into your diet, remember to consider the whole package. Nuts, seeds, and beans can offer all of the health benefits of animal proteins without the harmful health and environmental impact.