Single-item substitutions can substantially reduce the carbon and water scarcity footprints of US diets: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates “the potential impact of a single dietary substitution on the carbon and water footprints of self-selected diets in the United States.”1 The authors found that the “highest impact item in Americans’ diet is beef and around 20 percent of survey respondents ate at least one serving of it in a day.” If Americans “collectively swapped one serving of beef — for example, choosing ground turkey instead of ground beef — their diets’ greenhouse gas emissions fell by an average of 48 percent and water-use impact declined by 30 percent.”2

“The study also examined how the change would affect the overall environmental impact of all food consumption in the U.S. in a day — including if 80 percent of diets did not change at all. If only the 20 percent of Americans who ate beef in a day switched to something else for one meal, that would reduce the overall carbon footprint of all U.S. diets by 9.6 percent and reduce water-use impacts by 5.9 percent.”2

To get you started in the kitchen, here is a recipe from Eating Well that uses ground turkey:

Hearty Chickpea & Spinach Stew


  1. Rose D, Willits-Smith AM, Heller MC. Single-item substitutions can substantially reduce the carbon and water scarcity footprints of US diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022 Jan 13:nqab338. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab338.

  1. Brannon, K. Swapping just one item can make diets substantially more planet-friendly. Tulane News, January 13, 2022.

Published by greengrass50

My name is Christine McCullum-Gomez, PhD, RDN. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist with expertise in environmental nutrition, food and nutrition policy, food and nutrition security, food justice, chronic disease prevention, regenerative & organic agriculture, and sustainable healthy dietary patterns. Currently, I serve on the Editorial Review Board and as a Column Editor for the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. I live in Bogota, Colombia with my husband, two teenagers (boy-girl twins), and our dog Honey. My website is: You can follow me on Instagram at:

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