What goes into your belly every day has a significant impact on your health. However, recent analysis has gone further on this point. It turns out that what’s good for your health is almost always good for the planet.
For the first time, researchers have analyzed the health and environmental impacts of different products. It’s worth keeping this in mind the next time you walk to the grocery store. With few exceptions, the findings show that healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains have a lower environmental impact from the perspective of agriculture and mass food production. “This study shows that eating healthier also means eating more sustainably,” says ecologist Tavman of the University of Minnesota.
Benefits not only health
According to scientists, usually if a food is beneficial for one aspect of health, it is also better for other aspects. The same applies to environmental effects. What is right for people is not always right for the entire planet, but at least in this case these common needs overlap. To compare the health and environmental impacts of certain diets, the authors examined 15 food groups, including chicken, dairy, eggs, fish, fruit, legumes, nuts, olive oil, potatoes, red meat, grains, sugary drinks and vegetables.
Each of these groups was then analyzed for five environmental impacts and five health impacts. For agricultural costs, the authors focused on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and pollution, while for diet-related diseases they looked specifically at type II diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, colorectal cancer and mortality.
The risk of these diseases was calculated by adding an additional portion of each food item to a person’s average daily intake, and then each portion was analyzed by production, farming methods, seeds, equipment and farmland. Transportation, processing, retailing and food preparation remained off the scale.
Each food associated with improved health had significantly less impact than red and processed meats, with the exception of fish. While fish has a lower environmental impact than red meat and probably has the best disease risk scores, its environmental impact was greater than that of a plant-based diet.
Still, not all meat was bad. Even dairy, eggs and chicken seem to be better choices than red meat when it comes to both the environment and health. Processed foods aren’t healthy for you, but it turns out they’re not as hard on the planet as other options.
Sugar not so harmful to the planet
A dietary shift towards greater consumption of healthier foods would fundamentally improve environmental sustainability, although processed foods high in sugars are harmful to health but may have relatively little impact on the environment.
Researcher Michael Clark of the University of Oxford said replacing any meat with plant foods seemed to have the greatest impact. “How and where food is produced influences its impact on the environment, but to a much lesser extent than the choice of food,” he said.
Unfortunately, diets are heading in the opposite direction, even though the United Nations and other organizations recommend that people eat more plant-based foods to help us stop climate change. “It’s important that we all think about how the food we eat affects our health,” says University of Minnesota biosystems engineer Jasona Hill. So scientists now know that making our nutrition a priority will also benefit the Earth.
Principles of healthy weight loss