JAN 17, 2022 9:30 AM PST

An Earth-Friendly Diet Starts With Swapping One Food Item Per Day

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

When we think about dieting, we often think about how it affects our own physical and mental health.

But what about the health of the planet? The truth is, much of the food we consume today has a significant carbon footprint that is leaving a lasting impact on the Earth. Food production accounts for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and an even higher portion of freshwater usage each year. And animal-based products produce at least twice the emissions that plant-based foods do. For example, beef produces more greenhouse emissions than any other food product; in fact, it’s estimated that animal-based products cause more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by all food production. The requirements to produce beef are often more extensive than other meats, such as turkey. Cows produce more methane and require more food and water, creating more greenhouse gases and using water resources. 

As a result, our diets have carbon footprints. But according to new research, reducing the carbon footprint of our diets may be as simple as swapping out one animal-based serving of food in our diet, once a day.

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that substituting one meat-based portion of food for a more planet-friendly option (e.g., plant-based foods, turkey) could cut the carbon footprint produced by someone’s diet by almost 50%. 

Researchers analyzed surveys completed by about 16,000 Americans on their eating habits every day. About a fifth of respondents said they eat at least one serving of beef a day. Researchers calculated that if that one serving was removed and replaced with something with a smaller carbon footprint, it could reduce the carbon emissions of a person’s diet by almost 50%. And if all people who ate beef removed one serving a day, they could reduce the overall carbon footprint of U.S. diets broadly by almost 10%.

Researchers also analyzed how other types of food could be substituted with a positive result on carbon footprints. Some of these included swapping shrimp for cod or animal milk with plant-based milk, such as soy.

Sources: Eureka Alert!; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Nature Food

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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