Plant-based diets are pretty popular in the US. Açai bowls, kombucha, tofurkey, almond milk yogurt, and sprouted bread can be found almost anywhere. "Health" is the primary reason why Americans go plant-based—a diet lacking in animal products can leave the consumer feeling renewed and energized after a meal.

milk, sweet
Mollie Simon

Yet, after touring Germany, Italy, and Greece this past summer, I was surprised to learn that locals eat animal products and still look as fit and energized as my plant-based friends. Lamb, venison, Bratwurst, yogurt, milk, Parmesan, Leberkäse, Currywurst—the list of meaty, savory, European delicacies is endless. Here are a few reasons why plant-based diets aren't as big in Europe as they are in America.

Antibiotics in US animal products

Bridget Silver

I initially concluded that European countries have lower life expectancies due to high saturated fat intakes, but I was wrong.  German and Greek life expectancies are 81-years-old, and Italy makes the top 10 worldwide list with an average lifespan of 82-years-old. The United States average is 79. What gives? Why do these meat-consuming Europeans live longer than more plant-based Americans?

Part of the answer lies in antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance provides enough of a reason to convert to a plant-based diet. Antimicrobials are used in animal feed to induce rapid muscle growth and protect animals in such close quarters from disease. Even more shocking, 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to animals. Some of these antibiotics are used in hospitals to treat human disease, so antimicrobial resistance poses a slight risk. 

This isn't to say that all European meat is antibiotic-free, but it generally has less antibiotics than American meat, and it's easier to find the stuff that is completely antibiotic-free.


tea, coffee
Hana Brannigan

A more common and lesser known issue is inflammation, a result of human intestinal microflora disruption. Intestinal flora lives primarily in the colon—it is important in maintaining the immune system and in suppressing inflammation. Changes in microflora as caused by lifestyle and diet (antibiotics) play a role in increasing inflammation, thus lowering health rates. 

Inflammation is tough to pin down because it quietly disrupts bodily functions. Inflammation is associated with elevated levels of C-reactive proteins, which are produced by the liver in response to chronic inflammation. The disruption of microflora causes an increase in CRPs, a marker of unhealthy levels of inflammation. Inflammation is a concern because it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease

The difference between European and US meat

goody, cake, candy, milk, cream, chocolate, sweet
Caitlin Wolper

Europeans do not have to consider as many health issues when consuming meat because antibiotics used for growth in livestock have been banned. European cows are tracked from the moment of birth to slaughter. Each meat product in a European supermarket must list where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. This process demands producer-consumer transparency. Cows are not fit for the consumer if they are raised somewhere other than a pasture. 

Conversely, American cows are transferred to giant feedlots in early life and fed a mix of corn and hormones. This drives efficiency; with hormones, cows are able to triple their muscle mass in just months. If thousands of cows are treated this way, the price of meat is driven down significantly, making it more affordable and profitable.

Michael Lim

Perhaps America's momentum has not yet caught up. Life expectancy may increase in the future due to the current hype around the plant-based diet and the new brands that advocate for"no antibiotics." However, brands built by small farmers can be expensive in order to compete with big name meat producers. This decreases the incentive to buy meat with no added hormones or antibiotics.

In the mean time, Americans should look to decrease animal consumption if meat production and distribution remains non-transparent. Emphasis on profit over quality has a price tag, and your health should not be paying this expense. Plant-based diets are often less expensive and more sustainable than regular omnivorous diets.

As of now, the European Union reigns. With commendable fitness levels and healthy microflora levels, Europeans do not have to consider the risks of antibiotics in animal products. It is time for America to adopt a new hype—one that calls for utmost transparency and care in the treatment of its animals. After all, plant-based diets should be a choice, not a necessity.

#SpoonTip: Check out this nutrition studies site for some affordable and healthy tips for plant-based dieting. If a plant-based diet is unrealistic, check out these tips for buying antibiotic free products, because eating meat should not have consequences.