Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Adopting environmentally-friendly habits means making major changes to your lifestyle. You’ve got to toss out (or recycle, rather) your plastic goods, upgrade to sustainable and reusable items, cut back on food waste and adopt a planet-friendly diet. But food is often one of the most challenging changes to make, as it requires making the switch from a meat-centric approach to a plant-based one.
While limiting your meat consumption is touted as good for both the environment and your own personal health, it can be a tough switch for those who enjoy these foods. But before you resign yourself to cutting out meat completely, there’s great news: You can significantly reduce your personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and make your diet more sustainable without going wholly plant-based.
According to new research, you can take big strides with just one little tweak. And once you find out just how effortless it is to make your diet more eco-friendly, you’re going to want to make the change ASAP.
Choose one food in your diet and replace it with a planet-friendly alternative
A study conducted by Tulane University found that when Americans swapped just one not-so-sustainable food in their diets with a more environmentally-friendly alternative, it made a noticeable difference for the planet.
Researchers examined data from a survey of over 16,000 individuals, taking a close look at what they ate in a typical day. The team then calculated how much of a difference it would make if those individuals took one high-impact (or a food that has a significant negative impact on the environment) and swapped it out for a similar, but more sustainable option. Researchers measured the impact of this change in two ways: How much it altered an individual’s dietary greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on their water scarcity footprint.
The results of this research found that changing just one lone food could reduce your diet’s carbon footprint by as much as 48 percent in total. And remember – that’s just one serving of one food.
For example, replacing a serving of shrimp with cod reduced a person’s greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent. Opting for peas instead of asparagus led to a 48 percent decrease in those same emissions. And swapping dairy milk with soy milk reduced that metric by 8 percent. When it comes to water impact, opting for peanuts instead of almonds led to a 30 percent reduction.
While different foods had different levels of impact, the data shows that even small tweaks could have a positive impact. And pinpointing the least eco-friendly foods in your diet could lead to the biggest effect of all.
If you eat beef, subbing in poultry can have a huge impact on your sustainability
By far, researchers noted that the dietary change that had the biggest impact for the planet was swapping out beef for a different kind of meat. Subbing in an alternative for just a single serving of beef each day – like poultry – could reduce your diet’s greenhouse gas emissions by 48 percent. This single change can also drop your water-use impact by 30 percent.
Beef is one of the highest-impact foods when it comes to our diets and the environment. It’s hard on the planet, with beef contributing significantly to land and water usage as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s also an incredibly popular meat, with approximately 20 percent of the study’s survey participants reporting that they ate at least one serving of beef daily.
However, you don’t have to give up beef entirely. Just swapping one serving each day for chicken or turkey can have this significant effect. That means opting for turkey instead of roast beef in your sandwiches or giving up beef jerky in place of turkey or chicken varieties. Or, instead of having beef for dinner a couple of nights per week, you can opt for different cuts of poultry instead.
The positive eco impact of reducing your beef intake by just one serving each day is so significant that the researchers noted that even if just 20 percent of the people in the US made this change, it would reduce the overall carbon footprint of all US diets by 9.6 percent and the water-use impact by nearly 6 percent.
You can make this easy change today
While climate change is a major issue that requires action on many front and won’t be solved by one small personal change, the larger impact that change can have – when enacted by many – can make an important contribution. And it’s such an easy change to make. By identifying one not-so-sustainable food in your diet and replacing it with an eco-friendly alternative, you can work towards lowering your carbon footprint and environmental contributions.
Wondering where to start? We’ve highlighted some of the best foods for the environment, which can help you highlight a few great options to include for a more eco-friendly diet. In addition to exchanging one less-than-ideal food for a greener alternative, you can also incorporate sustainability into your cooking by turning food scraps into compost or practicing root-to-stem cooking.
Featured recipe: Sweet Potato & Coconut Millet Bowls