Foods that are good for us are good for the planet as well, suggests a new study.
Eating a more environmentally sustainable diet can slash our chances of dying in the next 30 years by a quarter, according to the findings.
Researchers have created a new diet score for foods that they hope will push more of us into eating better whilst helping the environment.
“Unsurprisingly whole grains, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and unsaturated oils top the list with eggs, and red and processed meat near the bottom,” said the research.
Plant-based foods are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and stroke, and reduced impacts to the environment in terms of factors like water use, land use, nutrient pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
The team from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health said their new Planetary Health Diet Index (PHDI) can be applied to all food cultures.
They also aim to create a simple tool that policymakers and public health practitioners can use to develop strategies to improve public health and address the climate crisis.
Dr. Linh Bui will be presenting the diet at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition held in Boston.
“We proposed a new diet score that incorporates the best current scientific evidence of food effects on both health and the environment,” said Dr. Bui.
“The results confirmed our hypothesis that a higher Planetary Health Diet score was associated with a lower risk of mortality.”
“As a millennial, I have always been concerned about mitigating human impacts on the environment,” said the research.
“A sustainable dietary pattern should not only be healthy but also consistent within planetary boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental parameters.”
Those who stick to PHDI can reduce their risk of death from causes such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases.
They created the index based on known nutritional and environmental benefits and then applied it to data on 100,000 participants in two large cohort studies conducted in the United States.
The data set included over 47,000 deaths during a follow-up period spanning over three decades from 1986-2018.
They found that those in the top fifth for PHDI had a 25 percent lower risk of death from any cause compared to those in the lowest quintile.
Higher PHDI scores were associated with a 15 percent lower risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular diseases, a 20 percent lower risk of death from neurodegenerative disease, and a 50 percent lower risk of death from respiratory diseases.
However, the researchers accept that PHDI does not necessarily reflect all food items and their relationships with all major diseases in all countries.
People with specific health conditions, religious restrictions, or different food accessibility due to poverty may face challenges with adhering to a more sustainable diet pattern.
She added: “We hope that researchers can adapt this index to specific food cultures and validate how it is associated with chronic diseases and environmental impacts such as carbon footprint, water footprint, and land use in other populations.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager