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What you do on a daily basis—how you live, what you drive and what you buy—can make a difference in the environment around you. It's no surprise that a message stressing the importance of reducing your carbon footprint is spreading, and more people are looking for easier ways to be less destructive to the Earth.
You might try to do your best by recycling, choosing a vehicle with better gas mileage and not letting the water run while you brush your teeth. These small efforts do make great differences (every little bit counts), but there's another way to live a significantly greener lifestyle: switching to a vegan diet.
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Three times each day, you have the choice of what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Through these seemingly small decisions, ranging from asking for almond milk in your latte to asking for no bacon on your salad, you have the ability to impact the environment in meaningful, sometimes dramatic, ways.
"We have to be mindful of our activities. Eating is something everyone on the planet does, and everybody has the ability to have some control over it," says Joan Sabaté, M.D., Dr.P.H., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Loma Linda University who also directs the school's environmental nutrition research program, which focuses on the impact human diets have on the planet. "A plant-based diet as opposed to a meat diet uses much less natural resources to produce."
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Research shows that reducing animal-based products in our meals can have a significant environmental impact: a typical nonvegetarian diet uses 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy and 13 times more fertilizer than a vegetarian diet, according to a study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A decade ago, the United Nations reported that meat production produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation industry, and recommended governments set targets for reducing meat consumption.
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If you like the idea of eating greener but you're not keen to give up all meat and animal products, don't worry. You can still help the environment without removing entire food groups.
"The good thing is that it is not an all-or-nothing endeavor," Sabaté says. "Reductions in meat consumption, whether in frequency or amount, have benefits."
Research has found that diets that are lower in animal products and higher in vegetables can have drastic effects as well. A 2013 study in Environmental Health focusing on the Mediterranean diet found that this eating pattern could contribute to greatly reduced energy consumption, land use and water consumption. More research highlighted by the Climate Institute has suggested that low-meat diets, such as pescatarian (eating fish but no other meat), can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
If you're on the fence about reducing your meat consumption, then consider taking the plunge for another important reason: yourself.
"[Plant-based diets] may lower the risk of certain diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers," Sabaté says. Benefits of going vegan can include weight loss, better heart health and an overall longer lifespan. The Mediterranean diet has very similar benefits to veganism, with the added bonus of it boosting brain health and providing anti-inflammatory properties.
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To keep your meat consumption in check, for the health of the planet and yourself, you can implement one or more of these strategies: