Vegan or ‘demitarian’? This new diet could be better for the planet

Vegan or ‘demitarian’? This new diet could be better for the planet

Going ‘demitarian’ is even lower emissions than veganism – and easier to stick to


If you want your diet to be more planet-friendly over the festive period, a new report suggests ‘demitarian’ is the way to go.

In a study for the United Nations (UN), researchers found reducing meat and dairy consumption could have a greater impact on cutting nitrogen pollution than a vegan diet.

Nitrogen is vital for plant growth and is found in synthetic fertilisers used by farmers to boost crop production.

But when nitrogen is leaked into the environment, it becomes a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Does nitrogen cause climate change?

The new report, Appetite for Change, proposes solutions to halve the nitrogen pollution from agriculture and the food system in Europe.

The study was produced by a group of researchers coordinated by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), the European Commission, Copenhagen Business School and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) of The Netherlands.

Appetite for Change says inefficiencies in farms, retail and wastewater practices mean that the nitrogen use efficiency of the food system in Europe is only 18 per cent, leaving most of the remainder leaking into air, water and soils.

Here, it transforms into various polluting forms: ammonia and nitrogen oxides, which are harmful air pollutants; nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas; and nitrate, which affects water quality.

Eating less meat and dairy could help tackle climate change

The report proposes halving the average European meat and dairy consumption and moving to a more plant-based diet to cut pollution and improve human health.

According to the researchers, the food system in Europe, especially livestock, accounts for 80 per cent of the continent’s nitrogen emissions.

Growing vegetables and other plant produce is typically more efficient than livestock agriculture, requiring less land and fertilisers.

To help the shift towards more plant-based diets, the researchers suggest providing financial incentives for foods that have a low impact on the environment and adopting public sector catering contracts that offer these sustainable food choices.

There should be a “coherent combination of policies addressing food production and consumption to better support a transition towards sustainable systems.”

The study also urges better management of fertiliser use and storage of manure, which contains nitrogen.

The researchers say better wastewater treatment to capture nitrogen from sewage would also reduce emissions and enable recycled nutrients to be used on fields.

Is ‘demitarian’ better than vegan?

Although veganism is touted as one of the most planet-friendly diets, going demitarian could be better for tackling nitrogen pollution.

“Our analysis finds that a broad package of actions including a demitarian approach (halving meat and dairy consumption) scored most highly in looking to halve nitrogen waste by 2030,” says Professor Mark Sutton of UKCEH, one of the editors of Appetite for Change.

The protein consumption of the average person in Europe greatly exceeds the recommendations of the World Health Organization.


The report says a balanced diet with less meat and dairy would also improve nutrition and make people healthier, reducing demand on health services.


Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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