If you’re looking to slash your carbon footprint, changing just one item in your diet could help you make the grade. According to a recent study, Americans who eat beef could reduce their carbon emissions by as much as 48 percent by substituting just one serving per day with a more eco-friendly option.
As part of the study, published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers used survey data about the daily diets of more than 16,000 Americans. They then calculated how much of a difference people could make by switching one high-impact food item with a more sustainable alternative.
The team looked at the effects of the swap on two metrics in particular: the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their diets and the water scarcity footprint, a measure that quantifies the water used to produce the foods they eat.
The researchers found that the most significant impact would come from switching beef with a more environmentally friendly option. Around 20 percent of the survey respondents reported eating at least one serving of beef per day. According to the study, if all of them substituted just one serving of beef with turkey, their diets’ carbon footprint would fall by 48 percent and water use would decline by 30 percent.
“People can make a significant difference in their carbon footprint with very simple changes—and the easiest one would be to substitute poultry for beef,” says lead author Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University.
The researchers also found that if that portion of the population that eats beef every day collectively made the switch, the change would reduce the carbon footprint of all US diets by 9.6 percent and the water-use impact by 5.9 percent, reports Futurity.
Interestingly, the researchers also looked at the impacts of other diet switches as well. Swapping a serving of shrimp with cod, for example, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent, while swapping dairy milk for soymilk led to an 8 percent reduction. Also, replacing asparagus with peas had the biggest impact on water scarcity footprint, resulting in a whopping 48 percent reduction.
The study serves to encourage people to reconsider their dietary preferences as they seek to contribute towards slowing down climate change. “Many individuals feel strongly about this and wish to change our climate problem through direct actions that they can control,” says Rose. “This, in turn, can change social norms about both the seriousness of the problem and the potential solutions that can address it. Our study provides evidence that even simple steps can assist in these efforts.”
Source study: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Single-item substitutions can substantially reduce the carbon and water scarcity footprints of US diets