Plant-Based Diets Linked with Much Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Finds

People who follow World Health Organization dietary guidelines for the intake of fats, carbohydrates and sodium are responsible for fewer emissions.
Dec. 7, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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Following a plant-based diet has been con­firmed as the most sus­tain­able way to eat by a newly-pub­lished study.

The research pub­lished in Plos One shows that green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions asso­ci­ated with non-veg­e­tar­ian diets are 59 per­cent higher than those asso­ci­ated with veg­e­tar­ian diets. By itself, meat pro­duc­tion is respon­si­ble for 32 per­cent of all GHG emis­sions.

Healthier diets had lower GHG emis­sions, demon­strat­ing con­sis­tency between plan­e­tary and per­sonal health.- University of Leeds researchers, 

Globally, 30 per­cent of all GHG emis­sions come from food pro­duc­tion, with less envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able diets linked to the pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion of processed food, which is often high in energy and low in nutri­tional qual­i­ties.

See Also:Even During a Pandemic, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Soared to Record Highs in 2020

To date, the envi­ron­men­tal impact of diets have mostly been based on a lim­ited num­ber of broad food groups,” the research team from the University of Leeds wrote.

The study pro­filed the eat­ing habits of 212 adults in the United Kingdom. The researchers linked GHG emis­sions to more than 3,000 foods listed in the U.K. Composition of Foods Integrated Dataset (COFID), assess­ing the asso­ci­a­tion between indi­vid­u­als’ GHG emis­sions, nutri­ent intake and demo­graph­ics.

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We also iden­tify addi­tional infor­ma­tion required in dietary assess­ment to gen­er­ate more accu­rate envi­ron­men­tal impact data for indi­vid­ual-level diets,” the researchers wrote.

The results show that drinks account for 15 per­cent of the GHG emis­sions, while 14 per­cent are due to dairy, and eight per­cent are asso­ci­ated with cakes, bis­cuits and con­fec­tionery. Researchers also found that women tend to fol­low a more sus­tain­able dietary reg­i­men, with men’s diets asso­ci­ated with 41 per­cent more GHG emis­sions.

The researchers added that par­tic­i­pants whose intake of sat­u­rated fats, car­bo­hy­drates and sodium aligned with World Health Organization rec­om­men­da­tions were asso­ci­ated with lower GHG emis­sions.

Policies encour­ag­ing sus­tain­able diets should focus on plant-based diets,” the researchers wrote. Substituting tea, cof­fee and alco­hol with more sus­tain­able alter­na­tives, whilst reduc­ing less nutri­tious sweet snacks, presents fur­ther oppor­tu­ni­ties.”

See Also:Climate Change Coverage

Healthier diets had lower GHG emis­sions, demon­strat­ing con­sis­tency between plan­e­tary and per­sonal health,” they added.

The researchers believe that fur­ther infor­ma­tion about the impact of food pro­duc­tion on global GHG emis­sions could be gained from incor­po­rat­ing brand, pro­duc­tion meth­ods, post-retail emis­sions, coun­try of ori­gin and addi­tional envi­ron­men­tal impact indi­ca­tors.”

Previous stud­ies have shown that GHG emis­sions from global food pro­duc­tion exceed 17 bil­lion tons per year.

According to data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the world pro­duced just under 50 bil­lion tons of GHG emis­sions in 2015.

Of those 17 bil­lion tons of emis­sions asso­ci­ated with food pro­duc­tion, 57 per­cent come from the pro­duc­tion of ani­mal-based food, includ­ing live­stock feed. Meanwhile, 29 per­cent come from plant-based food, and 14 per­cent are asso­ci­ated with other land uses.

We all want to do our bit to help save the planet. Working out how to mod­ify our diets is one way we can do that,” the researchers con­cluded. There are broad-brush con­cepts like reduc­ing our meat intake, par­tic­u­larly red meat, but our work also shows that big gains can be made from small changes, like cut­ting out sweets, or poten­tially just by switch­ing brands.”



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