Report: The Healthier We Eat, the Better It Is for the Environment
It’s a win-win: the healthier we eat, the better it is for the environment, concludes a new study of 15 different food groups, the health effects associated with their consumption, and the environmental toll of their production.
The findings follow updated dietary recommendations from a global commission of doctors and scientists, released earlier this year, commonly known as the Planetary Health Diet.
The new report, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), backs up the Planetary Health Diet guidelines. The Planetary Health Diet recommends cutting out red meat and sugar substantially and increasing intake of vegetables, fruits, pulses, and nuts. The report similarly found nearly all foods associated with better health — for example, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and olive oil — did the least environmental damage. Processed and unprocessed red meats increase risk of poor health the most — as they also have the most negative impact on the environment.
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It’s a mutually reinforcing endeavor, researchers say. “Normally, if a food product is good for one aspect of a person’s health, it’s better for other health outcomes, as well. The same holds for environmental outcomes,” David Tilman, a study author and professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, said in a statement.
The new report found only two outliers to the new rule of thumb that healthy eating helps the environment. While eating fish is typically associated with better health, fishing and its related industries take a moderate toll on the environment. And while sugar-sweetened beverages are terrible for human health, they pose very little threat to the planet. Still, the experts behind the latest report do not recommend eating sugar more than previously advised.
“This study shows that replacing red meat with more nutritious options can greatly improve health and the environment,” Jason Hill, study author and bioproducts and biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said in the statement. “It’s important that all of us think about the health impacts of the foods we eat. We now know that making our nutrition a priority will pay dividends for the Earth, as well.”