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Researchers find that making 'small changes' to your diet can lead to big results: 'Doesn't have to be a whole lifestyle change'

"Our study shows that changing just one ingredient, making one swap, can be a win-win."

"Our study shows that changing just one ingredient, making one swap, can be a win-win."

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Making simple changes to the foods we eat, like swapping beef for chicken in a burrito, can decrease environmental harm and improve personal health, according to the academic journal Nature Food.

If all consumers of high-carbon foods switched to low-carbon substitutes, the United States' dietary carbon footprint could decrease by 35%. These changes would also increase diet quality by between 4-10%.

The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and Tulane universities, used dietary data from over 7,700 U.S. adults and children to identify practical food substitutions and then simulated the impacts of these substitutions on both carbon pollution and quality of diet. 

According to the study's authors, the findings indicated that a "small changes" approach could provide a helpful starting point for combatting diet's impact on health and our changing climate. 

"When you're at the grocery store, move your hand one foot over to grab soy or almond milk instead of cow's milk," said Diego Rose, senior author and nutrition program director at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "That one small change can have a significant impact."

Rose added: "This study shows that cutting dietary carbon emissions is accessible and doesn't have to be a whole lifestyle change."

However, the study also emphasizes that the sweeping dietary changes necessary to create the largest impact will be difficult. Food production is responsible for 25-33% of the country's planet-warming gas pollution, with beef production being a primary contributor, according to Tulane University.

While food substitutes are not a cure-all for major climate objectives, the study does provide compelling evidence that a little goes a long way. 

"There is overlap between sustainable diets and healthy diets," said Anna Grummon, lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Stanford University. "Our study shows that changing just one ingredient, making one swap, can be a win-win, resulting in meaningful changes in both climate outcomes and how healthy our diets are."

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