RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—OK, odds are we’re not all going to give up burgers and steak sandwiches. But that vegetarian friend of yours who keeps nagging you to give up meat has some new ammunition, based on findings from a study published in April’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And even if you don’t want to abandon your carnivorous ways, you can still lengthen your lifespan and do your part for the environment by rethinking the role of meat in your meals.
THE DETAILS: Researchers from Loma Linda University analyzed data from the Adventist Health Study, a look at the dietary habits and long-term health of 34,000 people living in California. Approximately 50 percent were vegetarians (defined as eating meat less than once a week) and 50 percent were nonvegetarians (they ate meat more than once per week). The research team also compared production methods for the foods consumed by the study subjects. They found that the nonvegetarian diets required the use of 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than the vegetarian diets.
WHAT IT MEANS: There have been a slew of studies recently that make the case that overdosing on meat—especially red meat—raises your risk of death from cancer or heart disease, and affects your health in other ways. This study adds to the evidence that meat-centric eating takes a heavier toll on the environment as well. “Almost everyone has some knowledge that it costs less environmentally or is healthier to be a vegetarian, but there’s no understanding yet of really what that means until you put some numbers behind it,” says lead author Hal Marlow, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Loma Linda University. The differences found in the study would likely be even more striking for the general U.S. population, he adds, since even the nonvegetarians in this study consumed less meat than the average American.
You don’t have to give up meat entirely to be a good steward to the environment, despite what your vegetarian friend might say. But cutting back could help you live longer, as well as help the planet you live on.
Here are a few ways to green your diet without sacrificing the occasional burger: