As you tuck into your Thanksgiving dinner, the kick-off event (at least for Americans) of the holiday season, spare a thought for the planet’s carbon waistline.
Food production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than a third of emissions worldwide — and a new study has given fresh insight into how small changes in the diet can have a big impact on food-related emissions. And even if it doesn’t inspire you to forgo the turkey and trimmings, it serves as a good reminder that a post-holiday pause on overindulgence might be just the kind of thanks Mother Earth might appreciate most, not to mention your own body’s health.
The scientific journal publishes research PLOS One It was found that a diet of fewer processed foods, meats, and dairy is not only better for your health but also for the environment. The greenhouse gases emitted by 3,233 foods were compared to previous studies that only examined broad food groups. This study, however, analyzed the emissions from 3,233 diverse foods over three 24 hour periods. It involved a group of 212 adults in Britain.
It was found that those whose consumption of carbohydrates, saturated fats and sodium exceeded the recommended level had less greenhouse gas emissions than those who consumed more of these nutrients.
Unsurprisingly, meat was the main climate and health problem. Meat eaters’ diets clocked 59% higher emissions compared to vegetarians, and men’s diets overall contributed 41% higher emissions than women’s, largely because of their greater meat intake.
Continue reading: How to Count Your Carbon Footprint, One Meal at A Time
But before you skip the turkey in favor of pie, the report’s authors note that desserts don’t get a free pass either. “It’s not that confectionery is any worse than other dietary components, it’s that we eat so much of it that it all adds up to a high impact,” says the report’s lead author Darren Greenwood at the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine in the U.K. “Whilst other foods, like vegetables, contribute to a healthy balanced diet, sweets have very little nutritional benefit. So it is an unnecessary impact on the environment.”
The report’s findings support a focus on plant-based foods, both for personal decisions on diet and nutrition, and for public policy. But that doesn’t mean a plate of Brussels sprouts for Christmas dinner. It’s about being more thoughtful in your food choices, and conscious of how they are consumed, says Greenwood. “We can all do our bit by buying local produce, grown in season. Perhaps this year you will buy less food, but more quality. Don’t cook more than you’ll eat and try not to waste any leftovers. That way we can enjoy the holiday and treat ourselves—think of it as a gift to our children for the future.”
You will be appreciated by them. Eventually.