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Finding fulfillment with how you fill your plate

Animal proteins use 17 & 26 times the land & water resources as plant proteins.
Researchers suggest decreasing daily animal calories from 30 to 10-15 percent.
September 28, 2017

Just in time for World Vegetarian Day, ASU nutrition expert touts the benefits of a plant-based diet, supporting local agriculture

Sacrifice is a fact of life. We make sacrifices for our families, our work and even our diets.

This Sunday, Oct. 1, as herbivores everywhere celebrate World Vegetarian Day, they’ll be happy to know that their dietary sacrifices may have the added benefit of contributing to long-term happiness.

“When people choose plant-based diets, oftentimes there are multiple motivators going on,” said Christopher Wharton, interim director and associate professor of nutrition at Arizona State University’s SchoolThe School of Nutrition and Health Promotion is part of the College of Health Solutions. of Nutrition and Health Promotion.

Those motivators could include health, ethics and sustainability.

“This leads to a question about how people … feel a sense of fulfillment from the food that they eat,” Wharton said.

He and a group of researchers at ASU’s Food Systems Transformation Initiative (FSTI), a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, recently finished collecting data on a study looking at food in terms of eudemonic happiness (long-term fulfillment) instead of just hedonic happiness (immediate gratification).

It’s something nobody had ever looked into before, he said, and FSTI is making it — and other similar studies — possible.

“FSTI is focused on small-scale agriculture, the environmental impacts of diet, as well as the health outcomes in relation to diets that could potentially be more plant-based,” Wharton said.

“So we are conducting lots of studies, and we’re working with community organizations to promote local agriculture, support small-scale agriculture, and to look for ways to help people improve their diets while being sustainable at the same time.”

Another ongoing study is geared at helping people set better, more attainable goals when trying to switch to a plant-based diet.

It will be about a month before researchers at FSTI have any definitive findings on the food and fulfillment study, but they suspect that restricted diets — such as vegetarian, vegan and pescatarianA pescatarian diet is one that is mostly plant-based but sometimes includes fish. diets — “may actually lead to increased eudemonic happiness” because of the knowledge that the associated sacrifices will have positive effects on bigger-picture issues.

On a recent early autumn Saturday morning, Wharton took a trip to the Gilbert Farmers Market to talk to ASU Now about the benefits of plant-based diets and supporting local agriculture.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Wharton visits the market about every other weekend. With an interest in nutrition and sustainable living that began with undergraduate research into phytochemicalsPhytochemicals are compounds in fruits and vegetables that aren’t necessary for health like vitamins and minerals are, but that do help stave off disease., led to master’s and doctoral research in nutrition communication, then to post-doc work at Yale on food policy and finally ended up in food systems at ASU, “people’s ability to make healthy choices, as well as sustainable choices” is what Wharton spends most of his time thinking about now.

“If you’re really interested in sustainability and you’re really concerned about the environment … one of the areas you can have the greatest impact is in your own diet,” Wharton said. “And one strategy for being more healthful, as well as being more sustainable, is to go local and eat more plant foods.”

Though some may think that's easier said than done, Wharton points out that lots of farmers markets and purveyors of locally produced food nowadays offer pre-washed bags of fruits, veggies and salad mixes.

“There are actually products like this that don’t need any prep at all,” he said. “All you need to do is reach in, grab a handful of greens, drop that in with some salad dressing, maybe a couple other things, and you’ve got yourself a delicious salad.”

Aside from health benefits, such as a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and a lower BMI, increasing your plant food intake is good for the environment. The amount of energy it takes to produce protein from meat is about 10 times the amount of energy it takes to produce protein from plants, Wharton said.

“Animal proteins also require 17 and 26 times the land and water resources as would plant proteins,” he said.

But meat eaters need not fret.

“You don’t necessarily have to be entirely vegetarian or vegan to elicit a number of these benefits,” Wharton said. “In fact, you can be generally plant-based and still eat meats or other types of animal foods [occasionally]. … It’s really a proportionality issue.”

Americans on average get about 30 percent of their daily calories from animal foods.

“This is not necessarily problematic,” Wharton said, “but if you want to increase potential benefits to your health, as well as benefits to the environment, one thing you can do and that researchers have actually suggested in recent studies, is to decrease the total calories per day that you’re consuming from animal foods” from 30 percent to about 10 to 15 percent.

And of course, there’s the benefit to your fellow man. When you eat locally produced food, Wharton said, “You’re supporting the farmers who are growing these foods, and all the people they employ. So there’s an aspect of community connectedness, engagement and community development, in terms of economic development and jobs.”

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Climate change demands a change in transportation designs and materials, says ASU engineer

September 28, 2017

Rising temperatures require pavements to be more durable and sustainable

Extreme summer heat has become more frequent across the contiguous U.S. over the past 20 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As temperatures continue to rise, transportation designs and materials will need to be more durable and sustainable, according to Kamil Kaloush, a professor in Arizona State University's SchoolThe School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

Kamil Kaloush

Question: How are climate change and increasing urban temperatures related?

Answer: The warming climate has resulted in an increased impact on urban heat islands — built-up areas where buildings, roofs and paved surfaces' temperatures can be hotter than the air itself. Known as the heat-island effect, this retained and radiated heat causes overall night temperatures to rise higher than in neighboring, less developed areas. Urban heat islands not only escalate the absorption and emittance of heat back into the atmosphere, the use of mechanical systems for cooling also triggers a rise in environmental pollutants, thereby causing additional burden on the environment.

Q: Pavements are a big contributor to urban heat-island effects. How can we make them better?

A: We work with government and industry partners to develop new designs and evaluate technologies that include modified pavement systems that better maintain safe and durable highways. We do this while keeping sustainability in mind — considering the important environmental, social and economic issues.

Our research on rubberized pavements and fiber-reinforced asphalt concrete has shown that these modified materials are durable and resilient. They offer better overall performance, which translates into road-user benefits, including improved ride quality, less fuel consumption, lower maintenance frequencies and safer roadways.

These pavements also offer the advantage of reduced pavement thickness, which in turn reduces use of natural resources and curtails greenhouse-gas emissions.

We also work with permeable pavements — pavements that allow movement of storm water through the surface — which can mitigate urban heat-island effect by dissipating heat more quickly than dense pavements. The improved water flow also has a positive effect on storm water management, and cooling pavement surface temperature. 

We’re working with local governments on the potential benefits of recycling old asphalt pavements. Although the national trends in recycling asphalt pavements are encouraging, the environmental conditions in Phoenix are extreme and need further consideration. Generally, we have found that the use of recycled asphalt pavements at moderate percentages can lead to greater resource conservation and a more environmentally friendly approach to paving.

Q: What are the biggest future challenges?

A: The International Disaster Database shows that extreme weather events have been increasing over the decades. To prepare for future climate-precipitated events, we need to invest in upgrading our severely distressed infrastructures while re-evaluating our current designs and specifications, looking at solutions that improve the performance of various transportation elements under extreme weather conditions. 

At the same time, as extreme weather events and the pressure of growing traffic demand continue, we will face increasing challenges to sustain and balance durability, user safety and effective mobility, and sustainability. Developing and installing sustainable pavements and other building materials will be critical to creating a sustainable future not only for our transportation infrastructure, but also for highly populated urban areas.

Top photo: During the 2016 Pavement Preservation and Maintenance Conference hosted at Arizona State University, local contractors provided a demonstration of six different chip-seal treatments, all finished with a micro surface to provide a uniform texture afterward. The project is designed to provide sustainability insights for local municipalities, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications