Red Meat and the Health of the Earth

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In addition to being hard on us physically, red meat intake is also hard on the environment. This year, the Scientific Report of the 2020 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee explores the environmental impact of red meat consumption along with its effects on health. Check it out!

Environmental Impact of Red Meat Consumption

  • Increased methane gas emissions
  • Increased use of natural resources
    • According to the EPA, 500 million tons of manure are produced by factory farmed animals. Runoff from these farms contributes to bacterial contamination and pollution in lakes and rivers.
    • Meat production uses lots of water. It takes 150 gallons of water to produce a quarter pound of beef (2).
  • Global warming

Challenges of Changing Red Meat Eating Patterns:

  • A recent systematic review of 34 studies on consumer attitudes towards environmental concerns and meat intake showed that while most are aware of the impact of meat on the environment, those who have changed or are willing to change their habits are in the minority.
    • In the US and UK, vegetarians account for only 5% of the population.
    • Those that were more likely to change habits due to the environment were more likely young, female, ecology-oriented, and living outside of the US (3).
  • Just because it is currently difficult does not mean that it’s not worth exploring.

Try Other Proteins Instead!

  • Tofu, tempeh and other soy-based products are complete proteins that can be used in traditional meat dishes such as stir fries, grain bowls, or salads.
  • Low-fat and fat-free dairy products also offer high-quality protein. Greek yogurt, skim and 1% milk, and light and non-fat cheeses are all good options.
  • Dried beans, lentils, and legumes area also versatile sources of protein. Pair them with a whole grain such as quinoa, farro, brown rice, bulgur, or barley.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters also provide dietary protein. The scientific report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee advises us to include these more frequently in our diets.
  • If you can’t go completely without red meat, that’s OK. Replacing ground beef with lean ground turkey or having fish more frequently in your diet is a good place to start.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
  1. Mohammad Talaei, Ye-Li Wang, Jian-Min Yuan, An Pan, Woon-Puay Koh, Meat, Dietary Heme Iron, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: The Singapore Chinese Health Study, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 186, Issue 7, 1 October 2017, Pages 824–833
  3. Sanchez-Sabate, R.; Sabaté, J. Consumer Attitudes Towards Environmental Concerns of Meat Consumption: A Systematic Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 201916, 1220.
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