Global vegetarian diets could reduce greenhouse gases

Sharon Palmer
Environmental Nutrition

Following recommended global dietary advice could help prevent more than five million deaths per year, according to British researchers, but it would only cut carbon emissions by 29 percent (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016). This may not be enough. The scientists found that if the world switched to vegetarian-style diets, we could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 63 percent, as well as reduce deaths by 7.3 million.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made recommendations to reduce red meat consumption to help address the environmental impact of dietary choices, but these suggestions didn’t make it into the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines released earlier this year. Other countries, in the meantime, are pushing forward with dietary recommendations that address carbon footprint. For example, the Netherlands updated their nutrition guidance to suggest cutting red meat intake by half.

Most people aren’t going to become vegetarians, but reducing animal food intake and adding more whole plant foods — pulses, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables and fruits — is something most experts agree is the dietary prescription for optimal health; it happens to be the best diet for the health of the planet, too.