We Gain Way More Than We Give up When We Start Eating for the Environment

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As the latest in a string of competitors to challenge the Mediterranean diet, the planetary health diet created quite a buzz with its debut in a science-based report in January. Following the eating plan means filling about half your plate with veggies and half whole grains, plant-based proteins, and a minuscule amount of meat and dairy. But new research, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests there are several ways to eat well while keeping planet Earth front of mind.

After analyzing the diets of 16,000 Americans, researchers at Tulane University found that preparing meals with a small carbon footprint is as simple as using less animal protein. "People whose diets had a lower carbon footprint were eating less red meat and dairy—which contribute to a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions and are high in saturated fat—and consuming more healthful foods like poultry, whole grains and plant-based proteins,” says Diego Rose, PhD, RD, the professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane who led the study.

“We can have both. We can have healthier diets and reduce our food-related emissions.”

To reach this conclusion, the group of environmental brainiacs created a database linking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to food production and asked participants of a nationwide survey to name everything they ate within a 24-hour period. Researchers sub-divided participants by the amount of GHGs required per 1,000 calories consumed and ranked the food according to the U.S. Healthy Eating Index.

Those with daily food intakes that made the smallest carbon impact also #crushedit in fulfilling a well-rounded diet. Many still consumed low-emissions ingredients—like sugar—that have their own drawbacks. And they also fell short in nutrients such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D, perhaps due to the lack of animal products in their diets. So when you do switch over to an eco-friendly eating plan, just make sure you're going the extra mile to incorporate those nutrients.

"We can have both. We can have healthier diets and reduce our food-related emissions,” says Dr. Rose. “For example, if we reduce the amount of red meat in our diets, and replace it with other protein foods such as chicken, eggs, or beans, we could reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health at the same time."

After all, everyone, there's no plan(et) B if we don't make the effort to save Earth, like, now.

Now to tackle that plastic problem: Here's how to use less without overhauling your life. Plus, why you should never flush your contact lenses down the toilet

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