Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Melissa Wdowik, an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.
What if you could reduce your carbon footprint without trading in your beloved sports utility vehicle? Methane emission has been on a lot of minds lately, and a recent local article on bovine burps called to mind an opinion piece I read on CNN.com: Why beef is the new SUV. Don’t stop reading — I have good news about having your beef and eating it, too!
Studies show beef has a large negative impact on the environment, not just in producing methane but also in using more land and water than other animal and plant crops. But ranchers are not to blame; they are meeting the demands of a meat-hungry world. You do not have to read medical journals to know meat promotion has gotten a little out of hand: Specialty menu items are pushed at consumers, who have access to stores and drive-through windows at all hours.
For example, the typical intake of an unnamed client includes breakfast of a shredded beef breakfast burrito, lunch of two barbeque burgers, a snack of super nachos with seasoned beef, and dinner of easy cheesy beef casserole. Don’t be surprised; beef consumption in the U.S. remains high despite nutrition experts’ advice.
Nutrition guidelines recommend limiting beef consumption to three times per week, with each serving consisting of three to four ounces. An easy way to picture a serving of beef is to compare it to the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. Research shows cutting down meat consumption to within recommended guidelines could cut global food-related emissions by one-third in just 30 years. From a health perspective, reducing meat intake to three times per week reduces one’s risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as weight if the meat choices tend to be high in fat.
There are several ways to eat less beef but still satisfy your cravings.
• Get the best cuts of beef with the best taste. If you are going to eat a smaller portion, at least enjoy it more.
• Fill your plate so it does not feel empty. Where there used to be a larger piece of meat, opt for a variety of colorful vegetables.
• Substitute other protein sources for some of the beef, so that you still get the taste, but small portions. This works for chili, soups and stews, when you cook small pieces of meat with extra beans and vegetables.
• Enjoy eggs, chicken, turkey, hens and other poultry in place of beef a few nights a week.
• Try fish more often; fish oils are heart-healthy and you can choose sustainable seafood.
• Consider plant-based proteins one meal per day. There are many options, such as lentils, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, soy (tofu, tempeh and edamame) and quinoa.
Sure, there are other ways to reduce methane beyond reducing beef intake, but readers know I’m not an all-or-nothing type person; we can take an assortment of small steps to attack one large problem. Enjoy your meat with a generous side of compromise.
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.