The evidence for the health benefits of a varied, nutrient dense diet are vast, but new evidence has shown that by making healthy choices for our bodies we could also have a positive effect on the environment. Michael Clark from the University of Oxford led a study looking into both the health and environmental impacts of 15 different types of food groups, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, eggs, red meat, fish, olive oil, legumes and sugar-sweetened beverages. The scientists examined the food-dependent linkages between and among five diet-dependent health outcomes in adults- type II #diabetes, #stroke, #coronary heart disease, #colorectal cancer and mortality- and 5 different environmental impacts of producing the foods.
The team used data from studies on the diets and health outcomes of millions of people, mainly from developed western countries, and calculated the health impact of eating one extra portion of each type of food. Data on the #environmental impact of each food was assessed through life cycle analysis, focusing on the land, equipment and other resources such as water required to grow or raise the food as well as any #greenhouse #gases or #pollution created.
In general it was found that those foods which promoted good health also tended to be better for the planet. One interesting food group the team looked at were nuts. #Almonds in particular have had negative press in relation to the amount of water used to produce a harvest, worsened by their rise in favour due to the many positive health benefits that have been reported. The team did indeed find that a serving of nuts had five times the negative effects on the environment compared with producing a serving of vegetables. Yet when we compare this to the effect of red meat; both processed and unprocessed, it’s “uniformly bad” said David Tilman, co-author, with one serving of processed red meat having 40 times the negative environmental impact of producing a serving of vegetables. Eating an extra daily portion of processed red meat will also raise the relative risk of mortality by 40 percent. Interestingly, sugary beverages, linked to an increased risk of Type II Diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, had little environmental impact, only slightly more than the vegetables. On the other side, fish, associated with a lower risk of several diseases, was found to have a high environmental impact in general, particularly when caught by trawlers in the open ocean, with a large amount of diesel being used to catch not many fish. Fish caught on lines or with seine nets near the surface had a more moderate environmental effect, roughly six times those of plant-based foods.
In conclusion the study stated that “The same dietary changes that could help reduce the risk of diet-related noncommunicable diseases could also help meet international sustainability goals”. Those foods with an intermediate environmental impact, and not associated with significant health outcomes, such as eggs, refined grains, dairy and chicken could also be used to meet health-focused and environmental-focused sustainability targets when used to replace less healthy and higher environmental impact foods such as processed and unprocessed meat. With global diets having headed towards a greater consumption of foods associated with #noncommunicable #diseases and environmental degradation this study offers fairly simple and effective solutions to prevent further health and environmental damage. By choosing the healthy option for our body, we can choose a healthier option for our planet.