Eating Lettuce May be Worse Than Eating Bacon: How the Environment is Faring

First Posted: Dec 15, 2015 10:29 AM EST

Eating lettuce may be worse than eating bacon. Scientists have found that consuming more fruits, vegetables, dairy and seafood is more harmful to the environment since they have relatively high resource uses and greenhouse gas emissions per calorie.

"Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon," said Paul Fischbeck, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken."

The researchers studied the food supply chain in order to determine how the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is affecting the environment. More specifically, they examined how growing, processing and transporting food, food sales and service, and household storage and use take a toll on resources in the form of energy use, water use and GHG emissions.

The scientists found that getting our weight under control and eating fewer calories has a positive effect on the environment and reduces energy use, water use and greenhouse gas emissions from the food supply chain by about 9 percent. However, eating healthier foods increases the environmental impact in all three categories; energy use went up by 38 percent, water use by 10 percent and GHG emissions by 6 percent.

"There's a complex relationship between diet and the environment," said Michelle Tom, one of the researchers, in a news release. "What is good for us health-wise isn't always what's best for the environment. That's important for public officials to know and for them to be cognizant of these tradeoffs as they develop or continue to develop dietary guidelines in the future."

The findings are published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions.

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