Environmentalists point out that for each ounce of food produced, meat requires more resources than vegetables. Studies claim that if everyone became a vegetarian or vegan, food-related greenhouse gasses could be cut by as much as 29% to 70%. But those studies have significant flaws in them.

Meat-eaters vs. vegetarians

Trainer Leigh Pujado comparing real and fake beef.

First, a percentage of the population will never give up eating meat, regardless of any health or environmental consequences. Any models must show what would happen with real-world numbers of meat-eaters and vegetarians, not some fantasy where everyone suddenly quits eating beef.

Second, you must account for the additional food people would eat to compensate when switching. A single serving of meat packs a lot of calories into a small serving. You have to eat many more vegetables to get the same number of calories, which means you have to use more land to grow all that food.

Researchers have documented that land use and water consumption is lower for plant-based calories than meat, especially red meats. But the savings aren’t going to be enough to stop the buildup of greenhouse gases.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find ways to eat more vegetables. As we pointed out in last week’s article, vegans and vegetarians tend to be healthier, weigh less and live longer than meat-eaters. There is also some environmental benefit, even if it’s not as big as some would claim.

Here are some of the ways to make better choices.

Always read the labels. The most popular meat replacements are heavily processed and don’t offer much nutritional benefit over the meats they’re replacing. Some are less nutritionally sound than leaner meat options.

For example, four ounces of “Impossible Burger” plant-based meat has 240 calories. That’s nearly one-third more calories than four ounces of 93% lean ground beef. The lean beef has about half the fat, half the saturated fat and four grams more protein than the meatless burger.

If you’re going vegetarian for health reasons, it’s essential to read the labels of what you’re eating. Just because it’s made from plants doesn’t automatically make it healthy.

You also need to start looking at your habits. Approximately 25-30% of all fresh produce purchased is thrown out. Food that ends up in a landfill decomposes and adds to global greenhouse gases. Everything you keep out of the trash can saves you money and helps the environment. Make meals in advance, chop up fruits and vegetables and freeze them, so they don’t go bad.

Swap out meat with the same volume of vegetables. If a meat-eater and a vegetarian eat the same food weight, the vegetarian takes in fewer calories. Vegetables are less calorie dense than meat, so vegetarians get just as full but end up weighing less.

Pay attention to how food is produced. As long as the farming methods for all those extra fruit and vegetables you’re eating are sustainable, that’s a benefit compared to a massive pig farm and all the associated waste. But it’s still bad if farmers continue with traditional methods that cause topsoil erosion, heavy pesticide use, and runoff contaminating nearby water bodies. The land is still being degraded, just at a slower pace.

If you can afford it, choose organic foods that use fewer pesticides. Buy from local farmers’ markets if possible. When two products are similar, pick the one with less packaging, more environmentally friendly packaging, or that traveled less distance to get to your store.

If you’re concerned about how animals are treated, look for more humane producers or cut out meat. If you’re trying to be more environmentally conscious, consider vegetarian or vegan dishes over traditional meat options. For weight loss, look into leaner cuts and increase your fruit and vegetable servings.

Instead of trying to figure out the perfect diet, make choices based on what’s best for your personal goals and values. Don’t let the search for perfect get in the way of what’s better.

Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program. For a free consultation with a WeBeFit trainer, call 305-296-3434. Read articles online at http://www.webefit.com and get updates by following us on Facebook.