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Saving The Planet Starts In Your Shopping Trolley

It's a meaty conversation.

If someone told you that ditching meat and dairy from your diet could help you to live a longer, healthier life, would you do it? How about if they threw in that it could significantly reduce your environmental impact on the planet?

Well, that's the latest research to come out of a new University of Oxford study, which revealed that, in addition to the health benefits, avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way you can reduce your carbon footprint.

The study, which was published in the journal Science, assessed the environmental impact of the world's food and drink consumption and the damage farming does to the planet.

The meat and dairy industries have the highest impact on the environment. Image: Getty.

Researchers found that while the meat and dairy industries have the highest impact on the environment, producing 60 percent of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions -- they only provide around 18 percent of the calories and 37 percent of the protein we consume.

By cutting down on meat and dairy farming and adopting a plant-based diet, the researchers said that global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75 percent and, despite any misconceptions, the world's population still wouldn't go hungry.

What's more, even the lowest impacting meat and dairy products were found to cause more damage to the environment than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal farming. 

So what does this new research tell us?

Well, according to the study's lead researcher, Jospeh Poore, it shows that even the slightest of changes can make it better for producers and consumers to act in favour of the environment. And it starts with what you put in your shopping trolley.

Speaking to the The Guardian, Poore said a vegan diet is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact on the earth. 

"Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy ... It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car," Poore said.  

And while adopting a plant-based diet is just one step you can take to reduce the demand for meat and dairy farming, as Poore explained, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing scenario.

According to researchers, if only half of the worst offending farming producers were replaced by plant-based ones, it would still provide two thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Adopting a plant-based diet is just one step to help the environment. Image: Getty.

From a health point of view, dietitian Melanie McGrice told ten daily that choosing to go vegan not only improves your cholesterol levels, but also reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke, and can aid weight loss. 

"It can even reduce your risk of certain metabolic conditions, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which leads to higher cholesterol levels, a larger waist circumference, and higher glucose levels," McGrice said.

"What's more, when you look at the world's blue zones -- which is essentially the hotspots where people are living the longest -- people in those areas tend to have a reduced meat intake."

A typical breakfast in Okinawa (one of the blue zone countries). Image: Getty.

Professor Tim Benton from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds told The Guardian, it's clear the way we produce, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective.

"Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets -- eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit -- has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier," Benton said.

Regardless of why you want to go meat and dairy free -- whether it's for health, environmental, or ethical reasons -- the evidence shows veganism brings more to the table than just good moral and ethical judgement.

It's definitely something to consider next time you're at the checkout.

Feature image: Getty.