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Simple diet changes can cut carbon emissions and improve health

Carbon emissions can be significantly lowered by eating chicken instead of beef, and plant milk instead of cow’s milk, which also means a healthier diet, new research finds. According to a new study co-authored by a Tulane University researcher and published in the journal Nature Food, making such simple substitutions could reduce the average American’s carbon footprint from food by 35%, while also boosting diet quality by between 4-10%.

This ‘small changes’ approach could encourage more consumers to adopt climate-friendly eating habits, the researchers said. Food production accounts for 25-33% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with beef production being a primary contributor.

“This study shows that cutting dietary carbon emissions is accessible and doesn’t have to be a whole lifestyle change,” Science Daily quotes Diego Rose, senior author and nutrition program director at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “It can be as simple as ordering a chicken burrito instead of a beef burrito when you go out to eat. When you’re at the grocery store, move your hand one foot over to grab soy or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. That one small change can have a significant impact.”

The study, which analyzed diet data from over 7,700 Americans, identified commonly eaten foods with the highest climate impact and simulated replacing them with nutritionally similar, lower-emission options.

“There is overlap between sustainable diets and healthy diets,” said Anna Grummon, lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Stanford University. “Our study shows that changing just one ingredient, making one swap, can be a win-win, resulting in meaningful changes in both climate outcomes and how healthy our diets are.”

Other co-authors of the study included Cristina Lee and Thomas Robinson of Stanford University and Eric Rimm of Harvard University.

Photo: Pexels (#17486821)