Exploring sustainable diets and the impact on climate and health


Exploring sustainable diets and the impact on climate and health

16 Nov 2023

Guest blog written by Cody-Stephen Leggatt (BSc Nutrition Student at Brookes University, Oxford) 


What you put on your plate is one of our biggest tools in tackling the current climate crisis and to a healthier lifestyle. Are you ready for the switch? 

Embracing carbon-conscious dietary choices not only contributes to mitigating climate change but also enhances overall health. Nevertheless, it is important that these dietary practices remain both environmentally sustainable and provide essential nutrients at an affordable cost. Below, we delve into the advantages of reducing meat consumption and explore strategies for adopting an environmentally-friendly diet.  

Encouraging individuals to modify their dietary habits, for example by reducing their meat consumption, may present a challenging proposition. However, when we explore the impact that these personal choices have on human health and the global environment, there is justification to reflect upon our choices and consider changing dietary habits for ourselves, and for the world around us.  

Research shows that the manufacture of animal derived food products substantially augments greenhouse gas emissions, thereby contributing to climate change. Meat production not only imposes detrimental consequences on the global ecosystem but red and processed meat can also have consequences on human health. Notably, red meats exhibit elevated levels of saturated fats, and diets characterized by substantial red meat consumption are associated with an elevated susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity. 

In addition to exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions, meat production impacts water pollution, water footprint and water scarcity. The continued development of these issues are negatively impacting the health of our planet.  

Agricultural, forestry, and other land use sectors contribute up to 23% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, the livestock industry emerges as the single largest contributor within this spectrum, accounting for a significant share, ranging from 12 to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The period spanning from 1992 to 2016 witnessed a staggering 500% surge in meat consumption, signifying a palpable shift in dietary patterns that exacerbates climate change.  

While altering one’s dietary habits may initially appear daunting or inconsequential, it is imperative for individuals to recognize the pivotal role they play in mitigating this global challenge. Shifting to a predominantly plant-based diet, or eating less and better quality meat, can exert a profound influence on our collective efforts to combat climate change, and ultimately construct a more sustainable world. 

Additionally, it is crucial to acknowledge the substantial impact of food wastage, given that a startling 40% of all food produce goes to waste. This wasteful disposal not only represents a significant contribution to climate change bus also produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, during decomposition, further exacerbating environmental concerns. 

How can one embark on a journey towards a diet that is not only lower in meat but also mitigates food waste? The task may initially seem daunting, requiring the breaking of long-established habits and a shift in lifestyle. Nonetheless, this transition can be undertaken gradually and effectively - for example by eating less meat each week and choosing better quality meat - whilst remaining cost-effective and sustainable.  

It is worth highlighting that the perceived protein sacrifice, when transitioning to a plant-based diet is, in fact, unwarranted. Plant-based protein sources such as lentils, offer 23g of protein per 100g, and are only marginally lower in protein content compared to minced beef. Lentils offer a cost effective and filling alternative to meat. Moreover, readily accessible options life tofu containing 11g of protein per 100g, and can act as a versatile meat substitute to enhance protein content in curries, stews or stir fries. Tempeh, another popular meat alternative, approximates the taste and texture of real meats and offers 19g of protein per 100g.  

In reflection, the food we consume is a step in the right direction to mitigating climate change and in the control of our own health. If we all make small changes to our lives, we can collectively have the desired impact in changing the world as we know it.  




Guest blog written by Cody-Stephen Leggatt (BSc Nutrition Student at Brookes University, Oxford) 


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