Switching Beef for Beans

By Jasmine Hanner

, 2018

As seen on www.runnerclick.com

The thing about changing the world is – it’s a lot of work. It can seem impossible. You already have a full-time job, sports, hobbies, a family, and friends. As much as we all want to help, sometimes there’s just not a whole lot of time or energy to put into other causes.

But what if there was one really simple thing you could do? You wouldn’t have to go anywhere, do anything special, spend any extra time or money. All you would have to do is eliminate ONE ITEM from your diet. There are plenty of greenhouse gas emission or environmental targets out there, including personal ones you can aim for such as: taking shorter showers, driving less, using less disposable plastics, recycle, switch out your light bulbs for more efficient ones, unplug accessories from electrical outlets when not in use, etc, etc.

But if we all just switched beef for beans in our diet, we could immediately get 50-70% closer to our greenhouse emission goals for 2020.


The novelty of this concept is in the simplicity and attainability of it – just eat beans instead of beef. That’s it. As an individual, this one simple change would make more of a difference, and faster, than most of the other things put together. Crazy, right?

The Health Benefits for the World

Recently, a group of scientists from Loma Linda University, Bard College, and Oregon State University got together to research the answer to one very specific question: What would happen if every American switched eating beef for eating beans instead? Here’s the twist: they could keep eating literally everything else. Lamb, chicken, bacon, you name it. The hypothetical scenario was only excluding beef from our diets. And the enormous change this one dietary omission could make is nothing short of extraordinary. Are you ready for this? Simply through removing beef for beans, the U.S. would reach nearly 50-70% of greenhouse gas emission reduction goal by 2020.


The reason is that raising beef cattle is one of the worst greenhouse gas emissions we humans cause, and it’s also one of the easiest to prevent. Raising beef cattle is an ineffective use of our agricultural land in the United States. Currently, about 42 percent of cropland in the U.S. is used to maintain the beef industry – that’s approximately one and a half times the size of California, or 400 million square acres (1.65 million square kilometers). Raising cattle for beef is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions as far as our food sources go. The production of legume crops such as beans only produces about 1/40th of the amount of greenhouse gas emission.


Considering our sizeable population of 326 million people in the U.S., and considering that most of us eat beef regularly, this small change to a diet can make a big difference. Has there been a move towards plant-based foods in recent years? Yes, there has. Yet the meat consumption of Americans is still rising and forecasted to keep rising every year. As production gets bigger, the meat gets cheaper, and more people are buying. Meat and poultry production has risen from 167.2 pounds consumed per person in 1960 to a predicted 220.4 pounds in 2018. In the year 2019, the quantity of meat and poultry consumed is predicted to rise to 223.9 pounds per person.


The Health Benefits for You

By eating 100g beans vs 100g of beef, you can get some pretty serious benefits to the environment, your wallet, andyour health.  On average, beans contain:

  • More protein (39g vs 22g)

  • Significantly more fiber (16g vs 0g)

  • More iron (8.7g vs 2.6g)

  • Significantly more calcium (106g vs 18g)

  • Significantly more magnesium (160mg vs 20mg)

  • More of minerals like manganese, phosphorus, and copper

  • Significantly less cholesterol (0g vs 90g)

  • It’s much cheaper to purchase

  • Environmentally speaking, it takes about 90% less water to produce and creates significantly less methane or greenhouse gases


The exact nutritional content depends on the beans, of course. But you’ll get most of the benefits listed above by eating most kinds of beans, and most types also contain a lot of potassium (which is great for maintaining a healthy blood pressure level) and are a great source of iron and even several of the B vitamins (thiamine, folic acid, riboflavin and vitamin B6).  Beans can even be useful in maintaining a healthy BMI or in a weight loss program. In one study by the University of Copenhagen’s Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, the results showed that the study participants were fuller for a longer period of time after eating legumes such as beans vs beef. Black beans, borlotti beans, dark red/light red / white kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, great Northern beans – there are many different types and flavors to choose from. 

Not only are beans chock full of more health benefits than beef, they also have the transformative power to change our environmental world. It’s a win-win situation.

Aloha, my name is Jasmine.

I'm a freelance writer, editor, and content creator based out of Maui, Hawai'i, USA.

I travel the world, write, take photos, surf, and hike!