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Just One Food Item Change Per Day Can Make Diets More Sustainable

If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better for the planet, a new study found it might be easier than you think – especially if you eat beef, you could slash your diet’s carbon footprint by as much as 48% by swapping just one serving per day for a more planet-friendly alternative, according to the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Using real-world data from a survey of what more than 16,000 Americans eat in an average day, researchers from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Michigan calculated how much of a difference people could make if they swapped one high-impact food item for similar, more sustainable options. They examined how the change would impact two metrics — their daily diets’ greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity footprint, a measure of the irrigated water used to produce the foods they eat, that takes into account regional variations in water scarcity.

The highest impact item in Americans’ diet is beef and around 20 percent of survey respondents ate at least one serving of it every day. If they collectively swapped one serving of beef — like choosing turkey instead — their diets’ greenhouse gas emissions fell by an average of 48 percent and water-use impact also went down by 30%.

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,” said lead author Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

The study also examined how the change would affect the overall environmental impact of all food consumption in the U.S. in a day — including the 80% of diets without any changes. If only the 20% of Americans who ate beef in a day switched to something else for one meal, that would reduce the overall carbon footprint of all U.S. diets by 9.6% and cut water-use by almost 6%.

Agricultural production accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and about 70% of global freshwater usage.

You can read more about this research here.

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