The Nuance

These 3 Food Choices Matter Most

New research identifies the most beneficial changes you can make for your own and the planet’s health.

Markham Heid
4 min readMay 4, 2022

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Photo by Somi Jaiswal on Unsplash

For most of my life, eating meals meant eating some meat. A proper breakfast came with bacon or sausage. Lunch was meat between slices of bread. Dinner was meat with other stuff on the side. If there wasn’t beef, chicken, or pork on my plate, it wasn’t a meal — it was a snack.

Old habits die hard, and it took time for me to reform.

At first I did so for health reasons; despite specious arguments from the Paleo crowd, eating a lot of meat is almost certainly bad for your heart and bad for your gut. It’s also terrible for the planet, and this latter recognition further motivated me to make changes. First I cut back, then I cut out. I still eat meat, but my consumption — especially when it comes to beef — is a fraction of what it was a decade ago.

I could do more, but Quentin Read says I’m doing my part. “Any reduction is good, but if everyone ate red meat once a week or less, that would be incredibly beneficial,” he says.

Read, PhD, is a data scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s a new gig for him. Before he joined the USDA, he was at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), a research institution supported by the University of Maryland that “brings together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior” to solve environmental problems.

At SESYNC, Read analyzed the effects of America’s eating habits on global land use and biodiversity. He and his colleagues described their findings in a paper published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Helpfully, their paper also examined how eating patterns that help the planet align with those that support optimal human health.

“The purpose of this paper was to look at American food consumption behaviors — so basically, to think of America as one giant stomach — and to see how changing the way we eat could benefit biodiversity,” he says.

Change is necessary because the way we eat today is quite literally unsustainable — as in, models of population…

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Markham Heid

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.