A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

New research touts benefits of foods produced with lower greenhouse-gas emissions

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service

Foods produced with fewer greenhouse-gas emissions are healthier than foods that create more climate pollution, according to new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Diego Rose, the report’s lead author, said people typically think of their individual contribution to climate change in terms of gas-guzzling cars or energy-efficient homes.

Research suggests reducing red meat consumption can help reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere as well. (Photo from jacmack34/Pixabay, via PNS)

“But they don’t tend to think about diet, and I think diet is important. The food sector is responsible for about a quarter of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide,” Rose said. “So, the choices that we make on what we eat can make an impact on that, because it’ll affect what foods get produced.”

Rose studied the eating habits of more than 16,000 people in a single day. He found those whose diets had a lower carbon footprint were eating less red meat and dairy products, industries that produce large levels of greenhouse-gas emissions and also are high in saturated fat.

Healthier diets with a smaller carbon footprint included poultry, whole grains and plant-based proteins. The lowest carbon footprint diets also contained lower amounts of important nutrients, such as iron, calcium and Vitamin D.

Rose said while there are valuable nutrients in beef, you can get them in other places as well. He added that people don’t have to stop eating beef and dairy altogether. But reducing the amount of red meat in your diet, and replacing it with other proteins such as chicken, eggs or beans, can reduce your carbon footprint and improve health at the same time.

“So, if we can eat better and also improve the planet, why not? There’s not going to be any quick fix here; the idea is to take baby steps,” he said. “And I think that’s something that everybody can do.”

It’s estimated the average American will eat more than 110 pounds of beef this year. Beef production in the U.S. is projected to increase slightly in 2019, to just over 27 billion pounds. According to USDA data, Kentucky ranks 8th nationally for its beef cattle herd, with about 1 million head in 2018.

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