The Statistics of a Plant-Based Diet

By G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

As I write this article, it is three days before the 2006 election in the United States. I did not realize there was a political side to nutrition until I started chiropractic school in the 1980s. As I progressed in my education, I realized there were liberals who promoted supplements and unrefined foods and conservatives who felt the impact of food and nutritional supplements was overstated. Back then, one could make the argument that there was both an anti-supplement/health food bias among traditional health care providers and a pro-supplement/health food bias in the alternative care community.

This article is based on the book Six Arguments for a Greener Diet by Michael F. Jacobson, PhD. The six arguments in favor of a vegetable-based diet are as follows:

  1. Better overall health;
  2. Less food-borne illness;
  3. Better soil;
  4. Cleaner water;
  5. Cleaner air; and
  6. Reduced animal suffering.

These arguments can be boiled down to three general themes: health, environment and food processing. After reading the book, which has quite a few statistics and is a good read, I went online looking for those who would contest or challenge Dr. Jacobson's numbers. I was unsuccessful.

Dr. Jacobson is the editor-in-chief of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, (NAH), published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C. The newsletter is famous for exposing the amounts of calories and fat in meals Americans purchase in restaurants and supermarkets. They (CSPI and NAH) tend to make everyone in the nutrition business angry - liberals, when they identify supplement claims that don't live up to the hype; conservatives, when they publicize deceptive labeling and demand nutritional information; and anyone who downplays food or supplement problems in order to protect profit at the expense of public health.

Selected Statistics from 6 Arguments for a Green Diet

By Percentage:

  • 19% of chickens are contaminated with Campylobacter.
  • There is 100% more fat in grain-fed cattle than there is in grass-fed cattle
  • 80% of beef cattle in the U.S. are graded visually by inspectors.
  • 8% marbling qualifies the meat for a prime rating.
  • 5% to 7% marbling qualifies the meat for a choice rating.
  • 3% to 4% marbling qualifies the meat for a select rating.
  • 2% to 3% of beef attains the prime rating.
  • 59% of beef attains the choice rating.
  • 39% of beef attains the select rating.
  • 66% of U.S. grain production is used for animal feed.
  • 21% of world grain production is used for animal feed.
  • There is a 16% reduction in fatal heart disease for each additional serving of fruits or vegetables consumed daily.
  • Vegetarians suffer 24% fewer fatal heart attacks than those who eat meat.
  • Americans consume 50% of the recommended daily amount of fiber.
  • 25% of food poisoning deaths are caused by pathogens from animals or their manure.
  • There is a 50% lower risk of heart attack when people eat more than five servings of nuts per week, as compared to those who eat less than one weekly serving.
  • 82% of ammonia released in the U.S. comes from livestock.
  • 13% of methane released in the U.S. comes from anaerobic bacteria in the manure lagoons of hog farms.
  • 19% of methane released in the U.S. comes from the belching and flatulence of cattle.
  • 2,300% is how much stronger methane gas is compared to carbon dioxide, in regarding global warming.

By Weight:

  • 60 pounds per day is the amount of manure produced by cattle.
  • 1,200 pounds is the average weight of a steer prior to processing.
  • 100 pounds a day was the amount of ammonia released from one hog farm under study.
  • 277 pounds of ammonia was the most released in a single day from the above farm.
  • 7 pounds is the amount of corn it takes for cattle to gain 1 pound of body weight
  • 1 pound of fertilizer is required to produce 3 pounds of cooked beef.
  • 10,000 pounds is the amount of topsoil lost each year from erosion on an average acre of farm land.
  • 22 billion pounds is the amount of fertilizer used to grow livestock each year.
  • 3.3 trillion pounds is the yearly amount of manure produced by livestock.

Note: For the few who might be wondering, I am not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy a plant-based diet.


  1. Jacobson, MF. Six Arguments for a Greener Diet. Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C., 2006.

Click here for previous articles by G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN.

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