Eating healthy benefits the environment; 15 food carbon footprint study

Eating healthy is sustainable for the environment as Oxford researchers prove. Fifteen commonly consumed western diet food – fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains –  revealed on analysis of their carbon footprint that they were not only healthy for humans but also, for the environment.

Researchers observed a trend between eating healthy and maintaining a sustainable environment. Plant-based meals are healthy with a low carbon footprint. Conversely, red, and processed meat is unhealthy with a high carbon footprint.

However, a few numbers of food opposed the trend.

Eating healthy is sustainable

The study by the Oxford researchers, headed by Michael Clark, considered a possible relationship between eating healthy and building a sustainable environment. Wrong food choices negatively impact the human body, degrades the earth’s climate, ecosystem, and water resources.

For instance, the food carbon footprint of vegetables and red meat or processed meat are 2.0 and 27.0, respectively, meaning that meat has more greenhouse gas emission properties than vegetables. Therefore eating healthy is a better environment conservation measure.

It requires a permanent change in lifestyle to have a sustainable environment and a healthy body.

However, a few numbers of food opposed the trend – a sustainable environment equals healthy feeding. Fish is a healthy food choice, but it has a bigger environmental footprint. Fish products like Tuna have a carbon footprint of 6.1.

Likewise, high-sugar foods, such as biscuits and fizzy drinks, have simple sugars that have a low impact on the planet, but they are bad for human health.

Some farming groups hold varying views concerning the carbon footprint of meat, like only intensively produced meat, which presents severe damage to the environment. But Michael Clark said a significant difference in carbon footprint exists between any meat with plant-based food. Thus, making plant-based food is a better option than animal-based meats. 

A member of the Oxford research team, Marco Springmann, said that the challenge in building a healthy lifestyle and sustainable environment depends on the ability of the public to choose healthy meals.

Incorporating information on health and environment on food labels could positively influence people’s choices on foods, said the scientists.

Other food-related facts

In another study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors assessed plant-based foods and animal-based foods. The researchers collated data from other surveys in developed western nations and calculated the health impact of eating one extra portion of each food on heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer.

Greenhouse gas, water use, and pollution associated with the plant and animal-based foods were calculated using a portion of vegetables as the criteria. The research study reported that unprocessed red meat had the highest environmental impact for all ecological indicators.

Prof Tim Benton at the Chatham House think tank appreciated the effort of the Oxford researchers in developing a relationship between eating a healthy and sustainable environment.

Developing guidelines of what a healthy and sustainable diet is, and having the public follow such instructions will help achieve the goal of eating healthy and sustainably.