illustration of a cow made up of fruits and vegetables
Dr. Elson Haas
written by
Dr. Elson Haas

Apr 22, 2021

I believe that good nutrition is a cornerstone of great health, and when talking about food, my focus is often very personal – how each of us can find and maintain our optimal diet, given many factors – but there is also the bigger question of how our food choices impact the environment, locally and globally. Is there a win-win, a way of eating that promotes health both for people and our precious planet Earth?

A recent report by The World Resources Institute (WRI) examined the environmental effects of making certain changes to global diets that turn out to be beneficial for us as individuals and for the planet. It looked at the carbon footprint associated with agricultural production, such as emissions produced by farm equipment or farm animals, as well as emissions associated with land-use change, like the deforestation that can accompany agricultural expansion.

The WRI report explored 3 possible approaches:

1) Reducing general overconsumption:

By cutting calories in more affluent cultures with a goal of reducing the number of obese and overweight people, a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the US, especially among our children. (Of course, there are many children and areas of the world that do not have enough food and this should be addressed as well.)

2) Reducing animal based protein:

I have long recommended a move away from various meat products to a diet focussed on vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits and grains. Animal-based proteins are also an inefficient use of resources.

3) Reducing beef consumption:

Out of all the animal products consumed across the world, a reduction in beef is likely to make the biggest single impact. Nearly half the land used for all meat and dairy production in the world is associated with beef production.

If implemented, all three initiatives would result in significant positive environmental impacts such as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. On an individual level, these same actions could improve our health.

We used to say “think globally, act locally” and here’s a perfect place to start, even with small steps; we could consider reducing our daily calorie intake by 10-15% if it is above 2500, review our animal protein choices, especially beef, and buy food that’s locally produced rather than shipped from distant places.

To learn more about the global impact of food choices visit the World Resources Institute website.

To learn more about your own best diet, check out my 1000+ page book, Staying Healthy with Nutrition.