When it comes to new year’s resolutions or lifestyle change in general, many people get tripped up by too many good intentions – to be healthier, fitter, to lose weight, to be a greener, ethical consumer. Having several new things to think about, which may take time and conflict with each other, can sap your willpower and lead to you dropping your new regime. “Later” you say…
But there’s one master tool that can help you to tick off multiple goal boxes at the same time, literally, and that’s your weekly shopping list.
For minimum change and pain and maximum gain in multiple areas, it’s your choice of protein sources from food we’re going to look at specifically. A couple of tweaks can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from your choice of food by 50% or more – even without changing to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Most people are well aware of the mounting evidence showing that reducing meat and animal products in their diet can bring multiple health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. There is also growing evidence that a diet low in red meat can reduce the risk of dementia.
From the sustainability perspective, it’s now common knowledge that reduced meat consumption helps to reduce the environmental impact of our diet, as raising animals for the meat industry requires huge amounts of land and results in a large proportion of global greenhouse gases.
For one or both of these reasons (or for other ethical reasons) increasing numbers of people are shifting to a vegetarian or vegan diet and increasing their consumption of plant-based foods.
However, many people feel that they are not ready to give up animal products from their diet for fear of nutritional deficiencies or because one or several members of the household don’t want to give up meat, fish or dairy.
Understandably, shopping and cooking different foods for different members of a household may feel too disruptive or time consuming, so keeping things as they are would be simpler, cheaper and quicker. The solution?
Simply – swapping 2 or 3 common protein sources that have the highest environmental impact in the way of CO2 emissions from their production. These foods also happen to be some of the highest in calories and saturated fat, so you’re hitting your healthy eating agenda as well!
The Low CO2 Diet
There have been numerous studies into the environmental impact of different food types and notable recent ‘meta analyses’ of those studies include work by Poore & Nemecek (2018) published in Science Magazine. The researchers looked into the results of 570 studies and the data has given us some useful charts and tables that are easy to follow…
As well as being high in saturated fat, which can lead to excess levels of cholesterol being produced in the body, beef from cows bred for meat production leads to more than double the CO2 emissions per 100g of protein compared to any other common food type.
If you were going to cut one thing from your weekly shop, then eliminating beef would undoubtedly be good for the environment, and is likely to help you in efforts to lose weight and safeguard your health.
To move towards a low CO2 diet, opt instead for lower impact poultry if you do want to keep meat on the shopping list and if you use beef mince for heavily flavoured meals like spaghetti bolognese, you could easily swap it for soya or Quorn mince and not notice much difference – perhaps even prefer the alternative.
Lamb is next highest on the CO2 impact list and reducing or eliminating it from your shopping list would bring similar health benefits.
You might be surprised to see cheese so high on the list – causing 7X more greenhouse gas emissions than milk and indeed higher even than pork in terms of CO2 impact.
In addition to the impact of dairy farming, cheese production processes further add to the environmental impact as shown on the second chart above, and as many cheeses are high in saturated fat, reducing or eliminating that from your weekly shop can be great for the environment, your waistline and your long term health.
The protein sources at the top of both greenhouse gas impact charts above tend to also be higher in both calories and saturated fat, bringing a host of potential health risks.
Reduce or eliminate beef, lamb and cheese from your shopping list and replace them with foods from lower down the list on either chart.
That one weekly shopping list tweak means that your retail choices could have big benefits for your health and the environment.