Foods that can help you live healthier and protect the environment

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Eating a hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of healthy living, while choosing to eat a serving of nuts could help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy living, according to a new research study from the University of Michigan.

Published in the journal Nature Food, the study evaluated more than 5,800 foods, classifying them according to their negative nutritional effects and environmental impact. It was found that replacing 10% of the daily caloric intake of beef and processed meat with a mixture of selected fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and seafood could reduce the dietary carbon footprint by a third and allow people to gain 48 minutes of healthy minutes every day.

“In general, dietary recommendations do not explain their long-term effects, to motivate people to change their behavior. It also rarely addresses the impact on the environment,” said Katerina Stylianou, who conducted her research as a doctoral and postdoctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Michigan School of Science and Public Health.

This paper is based on a new nutrition index based on epidemiology, the Health Nutritional Index, which investigators developed in collaboration with nutritionist Victor Fulgoni III of Nutrition Impact LLC. HENI calculates the net pregnancy beneficial or harmful to health in a few minutes of healthy life associated with a portion of food consumed.

Calculating the impact on human health

The index is an adaptation of the overall burden of the disease, in which its mortality and morbidity are associated with a single food choice of a single individual. For HENI, the researchers used 15 dietary risk factors and estimates of GBD disease pregnancy and combined them with the nutritional profiles of foods consumed in the United States, based on the “What We Eat in America” ​​database by National Health. and Nutrition Examination Survey. Foods with positive scores add healthy minutes of life, while foods with negative scores are associated with health outcomes that can be harmful to health.

Adding environmental impact to the combination

To assess the impact of food on the environment, the researchers used IMPACT World +, a method of assessing the impact of the food life cycle (production, processing, manufacturing, preparation or cooking, consumption, waste) and added improved assessments for water use and the damage caused by the formation of fine particles on our health. They also developed scores for 18 environmental indicators, considering detailed food recipes as well as anticipated food waste.

Finally, the researchers classified the food into three color areas: green, yellow, and red, based on their combined nutritional and environmental performance, just like a traffic light.

The green area is the food recommended in the diet and contains foods that are both beneficial from a nutritional point of view and with a low impact on the environment. The foods in this area are predominantly nuts, fruits, field vegetables, legumes, whole grains and some seafood.

The red zone includes foods that have a significant adverse nutritional impact on health or the environment and should be reduced or avoided. The most important negative effects on health are primarily processed meat, and when it comes to environmental impact, the first on the list are beef, pork and lamb, as well as processed meat.

Researchers acknowledge that the range of all indicators varies substantially and points out that nutritionally beneficial foods may not always have the slightest impact on the environment and vice versa.

“Previous studies have often reduced their findings to a discussion of plant-based versus animal-based foods,” Stylianou said. “Although we find that herbal foods generally perform better, there are considerable variations in both plant-based and animal-based foods.”

“The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear,” said Olivier Jolliet, a professor in the same department at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper. “Our findings demonstrate that targeted small substitutions provide a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without the need for dramatic dietary changes.”

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