The old adage "you are what you eat" now also goes for the world around you. According to scientists, animal-based foods are now seen as a significant contributor to carbon emissions, particularly when compared to plant-based options. A new report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the nation's top nutritional panel, links dietary guidelines to the environment. Red meat in particular has been associated with a larger carbon footprint than other meats.
Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members, says: “We need to start thinking about what’s sustainable. Other countries have already started doing this — including sustainability in their recommendations. We should be doing it, too.”
The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.
Members of Congress had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.
But the panel’s findings, issued Thursday in the form of a 571-page report, recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals. Red meat is deemed particularly harmful because of, among other things, the amount of land and feed required in its production.
“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report says.
The environmental recommendations are part of a report meant to provide the scientific basis for the next version of the Dietary Guidelines, the federal government’s publication on what to eat. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department will issue the guidelines later this year.
Stay connected and get updates from Climate for Health.Subscribe