A recent study by scientists from the University of Michigan evaluated more than 5,800 foods and ranked them according to their exposure to nutritional diseases for humans and their impact on the environment. They found that small changes in diet can be a step towards a healthier, more sustainable life.
Eating a hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of a healthy life, while opting to eat a serving of nuts instead could help you gain 26 minutes of a particularly healthy life, according to the study published in the journal Nature Food .
It found that replacing 10 percent of your daily caloric intake from beef and processed meat with a mixture of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and select seafood could reduce your dietary carbon footprint by a third and enable people to do so To stay healthy 48 minutes a day.
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“In general, dietary advice lacks a specific and actionable direction to motivate people to change behavior, and dietary advice rarely addresses environmental impacts,” said Katerina Stylianou, a PhD and postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health of the UM.
She currently works as the Director of Public Health Information and Data Strategy at the Detroit Health Department.
This work is based on a new epidemiological nutritional index, the Health Nutritional Index, that researchers developed in collaboration with nutritionist Victor Fulgoni III of Nutrition Impact LLC. HENI calculates the positive or negative net health burden in minutes of healthy living associated with a serving of food consumed.
The index is an adjustment to the Global Burden of Disease in which disease mortality and morbidity are associated with an individual’s single food choice. For HENI, researchers used 15 estimates of dietary risk factors and disease burdens of GBD and combined them with the nutritional profiles of foods consumed in the United States, based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s What We Eat in America database.
Foods with positive values contribute to healthy minutes of life, while foods with negative values have health consequences that can be detrimental to human health.
To assess the environmental impact of food, the researcher used IMPACT World, a method of assessing the impact of food on the life cycle (production, processing, manufacturing, preparation / cooking, consumption, waste) and added improved ratings for water use and human health Damage from fine dust formation.
They developed scores for 18 environmental indicators taking into account detailed food recipes and expected food waste.
Finally, the researchers classified foods into three color zones: green, yellow, and red, based on their combined nutritional and environmental performance, similar to a traffic light.
The green area represents foods that are recommended for increasing one’s diet and contains foods that are both nutritionally beneficial and have low environmental impact. Food in this zone is primarily nuts, fruits, field vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and some seafood.
The red zone includes foods that either have a significant dietary or environmental impact and should be reduced or avoided in the diet. The dietary effects were mainly caused by processed meat, and the climate and most other environmental impacts were influenced by beef and pork, lamb and processed meat.
The researchers acknowledge that the range of all indicators varies considerably, and also point out that nutritionally beneficial foods may not always have the least environmental impact, and vice versa.
“Previous studies have often reduced their results to a discussion of plant-based versus animal-based foods,” said Stylianou. “While we find that plant-based foods generally perform better, there are significant differences in both plant-based and animal-based foods.”
Based on their results, the researchers propose:
1. Fewer foods with the most negative health and environmental effects, including highly processed meat, beef, shrimp, followed by pork, lamb and greenhouse vegetables.
2. Increase in the most nutritionally valuable foods including field fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seafood with a low environmental impact.
“The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear,” said Olivier Jolliet, UM professor of environmental health sciences and senior author of the paper. “Our results show that small targeted substitutions offer a viable and effective strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without the need for dramatic dietary changes.”
The project was carried out on an unrestricted grant from the National Dairy Council and the University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellowship. The researchers are also working with partners in Switzerland, Brazil and Singapore to develop similar rating systems there. After all, they want to expand it to countries around the world.
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