A recently published, first-of-its-kind study investigated both the environmental and the health impacts of growing and consuming different types of food. According to this analysis, which included data from tens of millions of people, the foods that are the healthiest for humans are almost always the healthiest for the environment. Perhaps not surprisingly, animal products, and meat in particular, were found to cause the greatest harm to both human and environmental health.
“Dietary choices are a leading global cause of mortality and environmental degradation…,” reported University of Oxford researcher and study author David Tilman. “Continuing to eat the way we do threatens societies, through chronic ill health and degradation of Earth’s climate, ecosystems and water resources,” he adds. “We need to slash western meat consumption to tackle the climate breakdown and other environmental crises.”
Key Findings in the Study:
- Nine of the top 15 risk factors for death worldwide are caused by unhealthy foods.
- Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancers, and other diseases associated with poor dietary quality account for approximately 40% of global mortality.
- Consuming fruits, vegetables, minimally processed whole grains, and legumes is associated with a significant reduction in mortality and chronic disease risk.
- Red and processed meats cause the most ill health, notably increasing the risk for many chronic diseases; and they also cause the most pollution, greenhouse gasses, and water degradation.
- 30% of global greenhouse gases are caused by agricultural food production.
- Agricultural food production takes up 40% of the Earth’s land, degrades ecosystems and water quality, and accounts for 70% of the Earth’s freshwater withdrawals.
- Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans are the best foods for protecting water, resources, the climate, and your health
The scientists involved in this study are currently lobbying for new food labels that show information on the health and environmental impacts of the foods we eat. If approved, these labels will hopefully prompt policymakers and food companies to make more mindful and ethical choices; and empower consumers to choose foods that safeguard their health and the health of the planet.
“Our existing agricultural economy is destroying our ability to deal with climate change and also destroying our public health, says Tim Benton of the Chatham House thinktank.” “The global ill-health costs from diabetes alone are the same order of magnitude as the total value of farming to the global economy,” he adds. “If we can produce reasonable guidelines of what a healthy and sustainable diet is, and were those guidelines to be adopted, the world and its people would be in a much better place.”
Where to Go From Here
While this is the first study to investigate both the health and environmental impacts of dietary choices congruently, it’s not exactly groundbreaking news that plant foods are better for both. If you want to live a long healthy life and reduce your environmental impact the best thing you can do is eliminate or vastly reduce your intake of animal products. You should also limit or avoid sugar, processed foods, alcohol, oils, refined grains, and junk food. Although their production is not as destructive to the environment as animal agriculture, their health impacts are substantial.
The healthiest and most sustainable diet is one that is comprised mainly of whole and unprocessed foods and is centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Although this may seem uninspiring if you are used to eating the typical Western diet, it can be incredibly flavorful and satisfying with the right recipes.
Simply Healthy Cookbook has dozens of delicious plant-based recipes from different cuisines around the world. These recipes are chock full of nutrients that boost energy, fight aging and disease, and give you a fit body and glowing skin; and because they are plant-based, they help support the health of our planet as well. You can get a hardcopy to keep in your kitchen here; or if you prefer, you can purchase the ebook here for just $3.99.