How your diet affects the planet; the surprising answers

For many people, grocery shopping is a combination of looking for ingredients to fill out a recipe or maybe even just grabbing what looks good in the moment.  

Increasingly, though, experts say people are changing their eating habits out of concern about how what we consume affects our environment. 

“If we care about animals, care about the environment, let your food reflect that stuff,” said Kathy Freston, best-selling author of “Clean Protein.”

Freston said many people are becoming “eco-eaters.” 

“That means moving away from meat, adding more fruits and vegetables,” she said.

UC Santa Barbara Professor Ben Halpern and his team just published the results of a four-and-a-half-year study showing how food production increasingly puts pressure on the planet.  

According to Halpern, some of the data even surprised the scientists.  

“I’m literally eating my own words that I wrote,” Halpern told KTLA’s Sandra Mitchell. “I’ve got to change my diet to what’s more in line with what the science says is environmentally friendly.”  

Most people are aware that beef can be bad for the environment, all those greenhouse gas emissions, but you might need to back off the bacon too.  

Scientists discovered pork can be even worse because so much pig waste ends up in our waterways.  

Researchers considered everything from fertilizer tainted runoff and emissions from heavy farm equipment to boat engines to water needed for crops and livestock.  

In addition to beef and pork, some fish — cod, flounder, halibut — is also on the list of most harmful to the environment because trawling can disrupt the ocean floor. Bottom trawling is a fishing practice that herds and captures fish by towing a net along the ocean floor, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Then there’s rice.  

“It’s long been known to use a lot of emissions. It uses a lot of water,” Halpern explained. “People love their beef. They love their hamburger. They love their rice. So, we’re not saying remove all of that, but if we can make a few changes, it can add up to a really big benefit for the planet.”  

Fruits, vegetables and most shellfish, like clams, shrimp, oysters and mussels are some of the foods with the least impact on the environment.  

“If we don’t change the way we produce food to be more sustainable, we are going to run out of a planet,” Halpern said.  

The UC Santa Barbara professor added that if most people reduce their meat and dairy intake, it will make a big difference.  

As for how people see their individual role in all of this, Freston had an answer.  

“We think we’re just one person having this tiny little effect, but we’re one person and we have a ripple effect and that’s how things change,” she said.