Even small ones changes in eating habits can benefit health and at the same time reduce the environmental impact of food. Diet changes are not necessarily necessary: each hot dog consumed makes you lose 36 minutes of healthy life (for some foods it reaches 74), as well as each portion of foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruit or fish, 26 (up to 80). Thus, even just by reducing the daily calories from beef and processed meats by 10%, you get a 48-minute health gain, and a 33% decrease in your environmental footprint. If everyone realized numbers like these, they would in all likelihood be adopting somewhat different diets, and there would be significant progress on both counts.
So, at the very least, the authors of a study published in Nature Foods researchers at the University of Michigan, who for the first time jointly analyzed the consequences on the body and the environment of over 5,850 foods. The work was done by crossing the health risk with the environmental one, and attributing specific scores and effects. In particular, to evaluate the consequences on health, the authors considered the average consumption of US citizens contained in the large database What we eat in America, and associated each of the more than 5,800 foods with risk factors contained in the Global Burden of Disease, which attributes a health impact to each product. So they assigned a gain for health (defined precisely in healthy minutes of life over a lifetime) to positive foods and vice versa, a decrease of the same to unhealthy foods.
With regard to the environmental consequences, on the other hand, made use of another database, the Impact World +, which calculates, for each food, the environmental costs of the entire life cycle (production, transformation, transport, storage, preparation, consumption and waste). Then, they added water consumption and health damage caused by particulate matter emitted during the same cycle to the data.
At that point they divided the foods into three color bands, red, yellow and green according to the negativity or positivity of the score, and calculated the minutes of health and the consequences on the environment. The strongest message – the authors reiterated – beyond the individual numbers, is in the general sense of the data: everyone can make a contribution to reducing the environmental footprint of food and, at the same time, preserve their health: with small changes habits and diet.
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Roberto La Pira