Young woman shopping in the supermarket produce section

A huge new study finds that healthy foods are better for the environment

Good news for people who don’t like to choose between nutrition and SustainabilityA large-scale study of more than 57,000 food products sold in the UK and Ireland found that more nutrients tend to be better for our planet than those with less nutritional value. Posted in Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesIt is one of the first studies to examine the environmental impact of multi-ingredient food products, rather than focusing on single-ingredient foods such as beef, almonds and wheat.

“What is good for one is generally good for the other,” said study co-author and ecologist at the University of Oxford, UK, Michael Clarke. “You don’t have to make a choice that is good for the environment but it may negatively affect your health.”

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Previously, it was difficult for consumers to tell which products were more or less sustainable, because they often consisted of a number of different ingredients. Clark and his team set out to develop a method to solve this problem. “We have information on the environmental impacts of commodities like wheat and soybeans,” Clark said. But, “If you’re entering your local food store, you don’t just buy wheat.”

Clark and his team used an algorithm to calculate the volume of different ingredients found in thousands of products found in UK supermarkets, giving each ingredient an environmental impact score out of 100 – with 100 being the least sustainable. Factors examined included greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water stress, and eutrophication potential (the eutrophication of soil or water).

The the findings? Products containing lamb and beef were among the worst environmental triggers, scoring three times higher than those containing poultry. Sweets and pastries scored in the middle category. Low-impact foods include items made from plants, grains, fruits, vegetables, and bread products.

They then compared the nutritional data to environmental impact scores. “many [items] It was win-win and was more nutritious and sustainable, [including] The study authors wrote: Fruits, vegetables, salad, breakfast cereals, some types of bread, and meat substitutes. “On the contrary, there were many losers [items] With above average nutritional and environmental influences, [including] cheese, chocolate, savory pies and quiches.” There have been some exceptions to this trend, such as nuts, which are found to be high in nutritional value but also somewhat high in terms of environmental impact, and sugary drinks, which are considered nutritionally poor – because they are mainly composed of water And refined sugar – has a low environmental impact.

But overall, the researchers found that healthier, more advanced plant-based diets tend to be better for the environment, leading them to conclude that “replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with plant-based alternatives can have significant environmental and health benefits in places where the consumption of these foods is high.” high”. They noted that there are “multiple ways to achieve this dietary change, including direct and large substitutions (for example, beans instead of beef), or smaller transitions between similar products.”

Clark hopes consumers can take advantage of these findings to make wiser food choices.

“There are huge differences between foods, and we can start making choices that really improve our health and our environment in a fundamental way,” Clark says. “This kind of study can help us find our way there.”

In recent years, several large-scale studies have indicated that meat is the main driver of greenhouse gases. Learn more here: How does a vegetarian diet help the environment?

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