Want To Limit Your Carbon Footprint? Study Says You May Want To Avoid This

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Avoid THIS to Cut Your Carbon Footprint

Image by Kenny Timmer / Unsplash

When we think about the worst foods for the planet, meat has gotten a pretty bad rep in terms of its carbon footprint.

But a newly released study suggests there might be other foods to focus on if we're trying to be environmentally conscious.

According to research from the University of Sheffield and the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, households that consume more alcohol and sweets typically have higher carbon footprints.

A not-so-sweet surprise.

The researchers gathered data on the diets of 60,000 Japanese households through the country's 47 regions, specifically looking at their carbon footprints.

They found that households with higher carbon footprints were consuming two to three times more alcohol and sweets than lower carbon footprint households. 

And further, alcohol and sweets seemed to have more of an impact on the carbon footprints than meat consumption. Despite relatively consistent meat consumption throughout Japan, carbon footprints were still varied, with alcohol and sweets standing out as the contributing factor.

In fact, this study suggests meat could account for less than 10% of the carbon footprint differences across Japanese households.

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Challenging popular opinion.

It's become widely accepted that cutting back on meat is a great way to lower your carbon footprint. Heck, even Leonardo DiCaprio said so through his documentary, Cowspiracy. So, is meat really not that bad for the planet?

Not exactly.

Lead researcher Keiichiro Kanemoto still recommends limiting your consumption. "Meat is a high carbon footprint food," he notes. "Replacing red meat consumption with white meat and vegetables will lower a family's carbon footprint."

But these findings do show how planet-conscious diets aren't always black and white, with a host of factors contributing to a household's footprint.

"All countries are facing challenges in how to shift diets to be healthier and more sustainable. This evidence from Japan demonstrates that research can help us to identify what to focus on," Kanemoto says. "The same patterns of dietary change in terms of sugar, alcohol and dining out need to be considered in the U.K., Australia, the U.S. and Europe."

What can we do?

These findings might feel discouraging if you hopped on the meat-free train for the sake of the environment, but we're definitely not saying to start firing up the grill.

"If we are serious about reducing our carbon footprints, then our diets must change," Kanemoto says. "Our findings suggest that high carbon footprints are not only a problem for a small number of meat lovers in Japan. It might be better to target less nutritious foods that are excessively consumed in some populations."

For that reason, researchers suggested the possibility of a carbon tax for these less nutritious foods. "If we think of a carbon tax, it might be wiser to target sweets and alcohol if we want a progressive system," Kanemoto notes.

But as far as limiting our carbon footprints on a daily basis, a combination of reducing meat, alcohol, and sweets, along with making sustainable changes in the workplace and at home are great ways to do your part.

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