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Healthy, Plant-Based Diets Linked with Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Food production accounts for roughly ⅓ of total greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that small shifts in food choices can make a big impact. In this study, researchers calculated the greenhouse gas emissions of 3,233 different foods, as well as example diets from 212 adults. In general, diets that are better for people also tended to better for the planet. For example, people who kept to the recommended levels of sodium, saturated fat, and carbohydrates had lower greenhouse gas emissions than those who exceeded those levels. Further, non-vegetarian diets produced 59% more greenhouse gas emissions than vegetarian diets. When looking at individual food categories, 32% of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions were from meat, 15% from drinks, 14% from dairy, and 8% from cakes/cookies/confectionary.
PLoS One. 2021 Nov 23;16(11):e0259418. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0259418. (Rippin HL et al.)

Healthier Diet May Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Cut Healthcare Costs

Healthy diets nourish both people and the planet, and the savings can be quite impressive. Scientists in California created models to analyze how greenhouse gas emissions and healthcare costs might change if we decrease red & processed meat and refined grains in our standard US diet, and shift to eat more beans and peas, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The researchers found that opting for the healthier diets can reduce risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes by 20-40%, saving the US $77-93 billion per year in healthcare. These shifts can also lower greenhouse gas emissions by 222-826 kg CO2, which is equivalent to 6-23% of the US Climate Action Plan’s target. Climatic Change. 2017 Mar 6. [Epub] (Hallstrom E et al.)

Vegetarian Diets Have Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Lower Mortality Rate

Science is showing that plant-based diets can benefit people and the planet. Researchers at Loma Linda University in California analyzed both greenhouse gas emissions and mortality rates for over 70,000 participants from a large prospective cohort study (Adventist Health Study 2). The scientists found that the food choices of semivegetarians (eating meat more than once a month but less than once a week) and vegetarians were linked to 22% and 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions respectively than nonvegetarian diets. Additionally, the mortality rate for semivegetarians and vegetarians was 20% lower than the mortality rate of nonvegetarians.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014 June 4;100(Supplement 1):490S-495S. [Epub ahead of print] (Soret S et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Help Improve Environmental Footprint

The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with healthy people, but new research indicates that it can also help improve the health of the planet. Spanish researchers assessed how the environmental impact might change if the current Spanish diet (measured using food availability data and population surveys) shifted to a Mediterranean diet or a Western diet. They found that switching back to a Mediterranean diet could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 72%, land use by up to 58%, energy consumption by up to 52%, and water use by up to 33%. On the other hand, switching from the current Spanish diet to a more Western diet could increase all of these factors by 12-72%. As nations look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, the researchers conclude that encouraging a Mediterranean diet “would be beneficial from both a health and environmental perspective.”
Environmental Health. 2013 Dec 30;12:118. (Saez-Almendros S et al.)