A Plant-Based Diet is Better For You And the Environment

Adapting a healthier diet makes a big difference, not just in your own life but in the lives of those around us.  A new study says that when we choose healthier options—effectively, more plant-based foods—it has better impact on the environment; and that is, simply, better for everyone. 

The new report concludes that foods known to have the most positive health outcomes also have the best environmental impact as well.  On the other hand, common foods like red meat—which are not the healthiest choice—tend to be more harmful to the environment.  

Effectively, study author David Tilman summarizes, “The foods making up our diets have a large impact on both ourselves and our environment.  This study shows that eating healthier also means eating more sustainably.”

The University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior goes on to 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.”

Specifically, the study compared the five health and five environmental effects of 15 different food groups.  The results indicate that nearly all foods associated with better health outcomes have the lowest environmental impact. These foods include:  whole grain (cereals, breads, etc) fruits, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.  

In addition, the study found that the foods associated with the highest increased risk for disease are equally associated with the highest level of environmental impact. These foods include both unprocessed and processed [red] meat including:  beef, goat, pork, and mutton. 

It is important to note that the study found two notable exceptions to this established rule. First of all, fish is generally healthier as an animal protein and has only moderate risk of environmental impact.  Secondly, sugar-sweetened beverages tend to have high health risk but a low environmental impact. 

At the end of the day, University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering, Jason Hill, comments, “This study shows that replacing red meat with more nutritious options can greatly improve health and the environment.  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.”

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