As many consumers struggle to deal with the stress of climate change, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of South Australia explored how our diets may impact the environment. The team’s work showed that limiting consumption of unhealthy options like sweets, red meats, and processed foods may have positive environmental benefits.
“It is time we better acknowledge the environmental impacts of the type and amount of food we eat, considering the planet as well as our health,” said researcher Sara Forbes. “By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion people. There is no way we can feed that amount of people unless we change the way we eat and produce food.”
How diet impacts the environment
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 20 different studies that included information on consumers’ diets and food-related greenhouse gas emissions.
The team explained that different types of foods emit different levels of greenhouse gasses. Typically, “core foods,” such as eggs, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, and grains, are responsible for higher emissions than “discretionary foods,” such as alcohol, sweets, processed foods, and sugar-sweetened drinks. However, consumers’ eating patterns in different parts of the world can impact the environment in different ways.
For example, an analysis showed that people in Australia and New Zealand are eating larger quantities of discretionary foods than core foods, which can be detrimental to the environment in several ways.
“Discretionary foods have higher cropland, water scarcity, and Ecological Footprint,” said researcher Forbes. “Meat also emits greenhouse gases, although its water scarcity footprint is lower compared to dairy products, cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables.”
Ultimately, the researchers hope these findings encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices when it comes to their diets. Not only can it benefit their long-term health, but it can also positively impact the environment.