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Healthier American diets could greatly benefit the environment

Many people consider the environment as part of the calculus of which foods to buy and consume along with health and financial costs. Which foods are best for the environment though? 

Because animals are inefficient at converting food into energy, it’s often been suggested that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet is the best way to shrink your dietary carbon footprint. With most people unwilling to commit to such a drastic change in how they eat, researchers are looking for other ways to reduce the environmental impact of food. 

Traditionally, eco-friendly food recommendations have been based on a mythical “average” American diet. In reality, people across the country eat in extremely diverse ways. By analyzing the groceries that Americans buy, ACS researchers have devised new dietary recommendations report. 

Lead by scientist Hua Cai, the research team looked at grocery purchases from 57,000 US households in 2010 and found that 71 percent of those surveyed could reduce their carbon footprint with three suggestions.

First, the team noted that small households should buy less bulk food. Often bulk food purchased for one or two people leads to food waste. The researchers also suggested that packaging should be changed to be more efficient in smaller quantity foods. 

Next, the scientists found that cutting foods high in calories but low in nutritional value would reduce total carbon output by as much as 29 percent while also benefiting people’s health. 

Finally, the scientists claim that people should reduce the amount of savory baked goods and ready-made foods. They say that these foods produce relatively little carbon but because they’re consumed in large amounts those small emissions add up.   

The researchers acknowledge funding from Purdue University Environmental and Ecological Engineering for providing the Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship.

The study is published by the American Chemistry Society in the journal Environmental Science & Technology

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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