What we eat impacts not just our health, but the health of the planet as well. And now, a new study published in the journal Nature Food has helped to quantify the environmental footprint of different styles of diet.

Oxford University’s Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) program funded an analysis of both diets and farms across over 100 countries, assessing a range of relative factors. Data was comprised of over 55,000 participants and 38,000 farms and focused on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and potential biodiversity loss attributed to vegan, vegetarian, fish and meat-eating diets.

High meat diets have the biggest impact for many important environmental indicators, including climate change and biodiversity.

Professor Peter Scarborough, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford

It was shown that the amount of animal-based food consumed directly correlated with each environmental factor. Compared to frequent meat eaters, a vegan diet was found to contribute only a quarter of the environmental impact for greenhouse gas emissions and land use, 46% for water use, 34% for biodiversity loss and 27% for water pollution.

Individuals who ate meat less frequently were found to have reduced their environmental impact by 30% across multiple factors, compared to high meat eaters.

In a statement speaking to the findings of the research, lead author of the study, Professor Peter Scarborough, noted that ‘our dietary choices have a big impact on the planet. Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint.’ 

Whilst prior research has demonstrated that plant-based diets have lower environmental footprints as compared to animal-based diets, these studies have failed to consider the variability of food production and sourcing methods.

The findings are a reminder of the positive benefits of a plant-based diet, and a call to action for policy makers to promote their adoption, for the health of people, and the planet.

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