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Eat sustainable foods, gain more healthy minutes of life

According to new research from the University of Michigan, eating a hot dog might take 36 minutes of healthy life away from you. The researchers found that by exchanging only 10 percent of daily calories from beef or processed meat for those from sustainable foods like fruits, nuts and veggies, a significant impact could be made. 

With this 10 percent switch, a dietary carbon footprint can be reduced by one third, and a person may gain 48 minutes of healthy life per day. 

The researchers examined 5,800 foods, which were evaluated on both their health impact and their environmental impact. Katerina Stylianou, who conducted the study as part of her doctoral candidacy, explained what sets her research apart from others.

“Generally, dietary recommendations lack specific and actionable direction to motivate people to change their behavior, and rarely do dietary recommendations address environmental impacts.”

The healthy minutes calculation for each food was made by adapting previous research that looked at 15 dietary risk factors and estimates of disease burden and nutrition profiles of commonly consumed foods in the U.S.. 

To evaluate the environmental impact of foods, the experts looked at the life cycle of food from production to disposal, taking into account factors such as water usage and human health impacts from production-related air pollution. The researchers developed scores for 18 environmental indicators.

The study ultimately classified foods into three categories – green, yellow and red. The green foods are sustainable foods that have a positive impact on both health and the environment. Green foods include fruits, nuts and other plants, as well as a few select seafoods. 

On the other end of the spectrum, red foods have a high negative impact on health or the environment. The red foods include mainly beef, pork, lamb and processed meats.

The research suggests that legumes, nuts and outside grown vegetables should be increased in one’s diet, while beef, shrimp, pork, lamb and greenhouse grown vegetables should be limited. Small changes can have a positive impact. At the same time, however, the scientists emphasize that the best foods for the environment are not always the best for ones health and visa versa.    

The study is published in the journal Nature Food.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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