Shifting to plant protein foods—like lentils, beans, and nuts—can offset greenhouse gas emissions in the process, according to a new study in Nature Sustainability.

In the study, the researchers analyzed and mapped areas with extensive production of animal-based food, which uses over 80 percent of total agricultural land.

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The study highlights places where changing food production and consumption could create space for ecosystems to regrow while also absorbing carbon dioxide emissions.

The study finds that if the demand for meat fell, and animal agriculture operations slowed, vegetation regrowth could remove as much as 9 to 16 years of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. The authors estimate this would effectively double Earth’s shrinking carbon budget.

The authors emphasize that their findings are designed to assist local actions that mitigate climate change as raising animals remains critical in various low-income nations.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high- and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek, the principal author of the study and an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies.

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“Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure,” said Hayek.

Changing our diets to be more plant-based comes with other environmental and public health benefits.

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“Reduced meat production would also be beneficial for water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity,” William Ripple, a co-author on the study and a professor of ecology at Oregon State University, added.

Switching to plant-based diets have been shown to help global food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the dangerous link between animal consumption and disease.

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“We now know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said Helen Harwatt, a fellow of the Harvard Law School and co-author on the study. “Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduces disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens, and cows, and ultimately to humans.”

Read more about the environmental impact of meat.

Eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.

Interested in joining the dairy-free and meatless train? We highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

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