Did you know that switching to a diet free of meat, dairy, and eggs saves 50% more carbon emissions than driving a Prius. Imagine choosing a diet that is not only healthy and tastes great but helps to protect our planet. The first study to look at a plant-based diet and estimate both its health and climate impact supports the idea of moving toward the elimination or reduction of meat in the diet. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights the fact that what we choose to eat greatly impacts the global environment and our personal health. Choosing a diet that provides less meat and more fruits and vegetables could help to prevent 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050 and substantially decrease planet-warming emissions.
Oxford researchers modeled the effects of four different diets: A diet in which no guidelines are adopted; one that follows minimum global guidelines, a vegetarian diet, and a vegan diet. They found that in a world where everyone consumed a vegan diet 8.1 million fewer people would die due to complications from chronic disease per year, and food-related emissions contributing to climate change would be cut by an astonishing 70%. This was compared to a 29% decrease in emissions from a diet following dietary recommendations and a 63% reduction from a vegetarian diet.
What’s more, if the population were to adopt more vegan-based eating habits the countries that would have the greatest impact are the developed nations due to higher rates of meat consumption and obesity. Raising animals for food now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass, in addition to using almost 80% of deforested land in the amazon as cattle pasture. So next time you are reaching for a meat-based protein do your body and the planet a favor and try substituting soy instead, as producing just one pound of meat compared to one pound of soy requires 12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuel, and 15 times as much water.
Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Amanda Cravinho for her contributions to this post.