Findings from a new study indicate that households who spend less on red meat have higher diet quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of actual dollar amount spent on food.
The study, conducted jointly by researchers at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, indicated a wide variety in both dollar amount of household food budgets and share spent on red meat, with some households spending 23 times more than others.
While results were somewhat mixed, for those spending slightly less on red meat, for those with the lowest red meat share in their food spending, greenhouse gas emissions were “significantly lower,” and diet quality as measured by the 2010 Healthy Eating Index was “significantly higher.” This, researchers note, could be linked to the fact that some households may be replacing red meat with dairy or poultry, which has little to no effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers found that households spending less of their budget on red meat were wealthier and more food secure than those with higher red meat spending. Households with the biggest red meat share tended to have lower incomes and lower education, and in many cases were SNAP beneficiaries.
"It could be that red meat happens to, in some places for certain populations, be cheaper per pound than other types of protein," study author Rebecca Boehm, an economist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists tells the Pacific Standard.
Data for the study came from the 2012-2013 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey and encompassed 4,826 households across the United States.
Research in favor of a plant-based diet’s positive effects on the environment continues to pile up, with one 2016 study showing that a worldwide shift to a vegan diet would cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent. A 2018 research review from Oxford University called a vegan diet “probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.”
A plant-based diet also has numerous proven health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic diseases, and cancer.
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