The researchers said poor diets threaten society by seriously harming people and the planet, but the latest research can inform better choices.
The effect of bad diets on health in rich nations is well known, as is the need to slash western meat consumption in order to tackle the climate breakdown and other environmental crises. But this is the first study to consider both together in detail.
Michael Clark at the University of Oxford, who led the research, said: “Continuing to eat the way we do threatens societies, through chronic ill health and degradation of Earth’s climate, ecosystems and water resources.
Marco Springmann, also at Oxford and part of the study team, said: “We now know pretty well that predominantly plant-based diets are much healthier and more sustainable than meat-heavy diets. But sometimes there is still confusion among people about what foods to choose.”
The scientists hope more detailed information will help consumers, policymakers and food companies make better choices. The researchers are currently working on new types of food labels to see if information on health and environmental impacts changes people’s selection of food.
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, assessed plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, potatoes, refined grains and wholegrain cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and animal-based foods such as raw and processed red meat, chicken, dairy products, eggs and fish.
Using data from other studies on the diets and health outcomes of tens of millions of people, mostly in developed western nations, they calculated the health impact of eating one extra portion of each food on heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
The environmental harm for each food, from greenhouse gases to water use to pollution, was calculated relative to a portion of vegetables. Producing unprocessed red meat had the highest impact for all environmental indicators and was many times worse than pulses.
“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 said. “Our existing agricultural economy is destroying our ability to deal with climate change and also destroying our public health.”
Read full article here: www.theguardian.com