Eating Beans Instead of Beef Will Put a Dent in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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dried beans
High in fiber and low in fat, beans are a protein source that the heart likes. (Photo: O.Bellini/Shutterstock)

Beans are a good source of protein, and if we would all eat more of them instead of beef in the United States, we could significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, according to research by a team of American universities, reports Loma Linda University Health.

The team headed, by Helen Harwatt from Loma Linda University, came to the conclusion that if Americans switched out beef for beans, the U.S. would "immediately realize approximately 50 to 75 percent of its GHG reduction targets for the year 2020."

Beef is the most greenhouse intensive food to produce, partly because the tremendous resources needed to sustain cattle. The production of beans creates about one-40th of the greenhouse gas. The study also suggests that the U.S. could achieve more than half of its greenhouse gas reduction goals "without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing."

(Think about how great reducing both beef production and imposing standards on autos and manufacturing could be if we did the two simultaneously.)

Making the choice to go cold turkey with beef may not be for everyone. However, choosing to eat bean-based meals more often while eating fewer beef-based meals could be a great way to start a drastic reduction in beef consumption.

I reached back into the MNN recipe archives to find some dishes that are satisfying, healthy and bean-based. Consider switching out one beef dinner in the upcoming week for one of these dishes.

three bean chili
Choosing a bean-based meal, like this spicy three-bean chipotle chili, instead of a beef-based one can help eliminate some greenhouse gasses. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

Choosing a bean-based meal, like this spicy three-bean chipotle chili, instead of a beef-based one can help eliminate some greenhouse gasses. (Photos: Jaymi Heimbuch)

Spicy Three-Bean Chipotle Chili: Pinto, white and black beans can be made as spicy or as mild as you like it, and if you like it spicy but want something to counterbalance the heat, some heart-healthy avocado on top will do the trick.

Tuscan White Bean Soup: A soup filled with "everything good, and nothing bad for you" and apparently for the environment, too. Made with cannellini beans, this vegan soup is full of vegetables and generous amounts of fresh herbs.

Black Bean and Bell Pepper Quesadilla: With a base of black beans, red bell peppers and cheese, these quesadillas are versatile. Add other beans, fried onions, or avocado. There's a restaurant near me that makes black bean and pumpkin quesadillas that I ordered out of curiosity, and I now get every fall when they're on the menu.

Edamame and Cannellini Bean Salad: A bean salad to serve with rice or pasta, the recipe makes eight whole servings and it's incredibly economical. It's only about $1 per serving.

Gnocchi with browned butter sage
A bowl of gnocchi that is rich but not heavy. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

Gnocchi with Sage and Buttery Lima Beans: Fava beans, spring peas or even edamame can be substituted for the lima beans in this pasta dish and the simple sauce of browned butter and sage complements them all.

By starting to replace beef with beans, or even other plant-based foods, we can not only reduce greenhouse gasses, but we can make better use of land. The researchers also found that "substituting beans for beef would free up 42 percent of U.S. cropland currently under cultivation — a total of 1.65 million square kilometers or more than 400 million square acres, which is approximately 1.6 times the size of the state of California."

Do you have a favorite bean-based dish that you'd be happy to eat in place of a steak or burger?