Plant-based diets best for people and planet

Foods that reduce the risk of health problems are also better for the environment, new analysis has found.

Eating more vegetables, pulses and wholegrains was found to have positive health and environmental outcomes while eating more red and processed meat was found to have the greatest negative effect, including environmental impacts 10 to 100 times larger than those of plant-source foods.

Researchers looked at the effect that eating an additional serving per day of 15 common foods has on incidences of diseases such as diabetes and cancer and compared it with the impact on environmental degradation. They found that the same dietary changes that could help reduce the risk of diet-related ill health could also help meet international sustainability goals in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity.

Of the foods associated with improved health — whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish — all except fish were found to have among the lowest environmental impacts, although fish has significantly lower impacts than red and processed meats.

Foods associated with the largest negative environmental impacts—unprocessed and processed red meat — are also consistently associated with the largest increases in disease risk.

The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports previous research from the likes of the Eat-Lancet Commission and WWF which found that diets high in plant-based foods are better for health and the environment.

“Diets are a leading source of poor health and environmental harm. Continuing to eat the way we do threatens societies, through chronic ill health and degradation of Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and water resources,” said lead author Dr Michael Clark from the University of Oxford. “Choosing better, more sustainable diets is one of the main ways people can improve their health and help protect the environment.”

Clark added that although how and where a food is produced affects its environmental impact it does so to a much smaller extent than food choice.

The authors said that actions by consumers, policy makers, and food companies could help shift diets towards healthier and more environmentally sustainable outcomes.

1 Response

  1. Whilst this is an encouraging recognition of the value of a meat free diet or reduction in meat within a diet.
    The continue attack on red meats is particularly unfair as it depends on the management regime adopted in the production of these cattle. If they are grass fed on herbal leys with example sainfoin as part of the diet this can decrease methane production and certainly improve nutrition, health, welfare and quality of meat and dairy. It is the use and increasing reliance of imported feeds that are a big problem. Also dual purpose breeds example red poll can increase benefits further and certainly greatly improve animal welfare although production levels are lower Surely though, less meat in the diet but, when you have meat have a higher quality meat is the way we should go overall.
    Why there is No mention of intensive farming of chickens, pigs etc etc is amazing to me because these systems have multiple problems associated with them eg heavy reliance on imported feed and the associated environmental damaging consequences, animal welfare, lower nutritional value than free range meat, large quantities of excreta produced and pollution issues etc.
    Emphasis on producing feed near to production should be a priority. Mixed farming systems with organic, permaculture, agroforestry, minimum tilth systems (without glyphosate) should become the main approach to the future of food production

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