Why foods that are good for the planet are also good for your health

Eating more planet-friendly foods could help reduce the risk of death from cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses and neurodegenerative diseases.

Wholegrain cereals, fruit, vegetables, nuts and unsaturated oils are just some of the foods that can help reduce the carbon footprint of our diets while improving health, according to a new study.

Drawing on scientific literature on the subject, the authors of this research have established a new diet score called the “Planetary Health Diet Index (PHDI)”, which is based on both planet-friendly foods and those that promote better health.

The aim is to create a simple tool, “that policymakers and public health practitioners could use to develop strategies to improve public health and address the climate crisis,” explains a news release for the study.

“A sustainable dietary pattern should not only be healthy but also consistent within planetary boundaries for greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental parameters,” says researcher Linh Bui, MD, a PhD candidate in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was based on the EAT-Lancet reference diet, which takes into account the environmental impact of food production practices.

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Study reveals lower mortality risk with environmentally-friendly diets

Results obtained from over 100,000 people who participated in two large cohort studies conducted in the United States were also taken into account.

According to the research led by Linh Bui, people who followed a more environmentally-friendly diet were 25% less likely to die over a follow-up period of more than 30 years, compared with those who regularly ate less environmentally-friendly foods such as eggs or red meat.

In detail, they found that higher PHDI scores were associated with a 15% lower risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease. The benefits were even greater for neurodegenerative and respiratory diseases, with a reduction in the risk of death estimated at 20% and 50% respectively.

The study findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, held from July 22 to 25 in Boston.

Linh Bui points out, however, that the PHDI index does not necessarily reflect all food products and their relationships with all major diseases in all countries.

“People with specific health conditions, religious restrictions, or different food accessibility due to socioeconomic status or food availability may face challenges with adhering to a more sustainable diet pattern. Further research could help to elucidate and address such barriers,” researchers said.

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