Approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions around the world come from the food industry. Nevertheless, most research primarily focused on a restricted number of broad categories.
A recent study published in the PLOS One journal has dived into a more granular level by examining the environmental effects of the plant-based diet.
In this project, scientists at the School of Medicine, the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom analyzed greenhouse gas emissions of more than 3,000 food products. Based on the numbers of individual foods, they measured an estimate for each diet.
The authors examined the emissions by different aspects, including recommended diet intakes, demographics, and dietary patterns.
After the analysis, they found out that meat products led to around 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions linked to diet.
Drinks like alcohol, tea, and coffee were linked to 15 percent of emissions, while the number for dairy products was around 14 percent.
Candies, cookies, and cakes may result in around 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
By gender, the diets of women were linked to 41 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than those of men. This may be explained by differences in drink and meat consumption.
More importantly, vegan diets were linked to 59 percent lower emissions than non-vegan diets.
Based on the results, the authors claim that plant-based diets may both optimize nutritional intakes and reduce carbon footprint. Nevertheless, trade-offs are unavoidable. Increased water use may be one of them.
To deal with climate change, we need crucial changes in all sections, including the food industry. This should be the efforts from both sides: the producers and consumers. Consumer practices should be changed, in terms of food wasted and food consumed.
Some other experts believe that it is industrialization, not the type of diet that poses the biggest risk to the environment.
There are, however, certain drawbacks to the research. It only calculated greenhouse gas emissions, but many other environmental factors should be taken into consideration to ensure coherence in the food production network. For instance, the production of olive oil may release low greenhouse gas, but it consumes a large amount of water.
It can be very complicated to understand the associations between the food products we consume and their effects on the environment. This requires a comprehensive analysis of every factor, including packaging manufacturing, land usage, food logistics, and others in between.
This research helps us create a better picture. However, more studies should be done to find out other links.