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      Josephine OgunsolaJosephine Ogunsola

      According to a University of Michigan study, eating a hot dog can cost you 36 minutes of a healthy life, but eating a dish of nuts can help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy life.

      The study, published in the journal Nature Food looked at over 5,800 foods and ranked them according to their nutritional illness burden on humans and environmental impact. It was discovered that replacing 10% of daily calorie intake from beef and processed meats with a combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and quality seafood might cut your dietary carbon footprint by one-third and give you 48 minutes of healthy time per day.

      “Dietary recommendations generally lack specific and actionable direction to motivate people to change their behavior, and dietary recommendations rarely address environmental impacts,” said Katerina Stylianou, a doctoral student and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The Detroit Health Department currently employs her as the Director of Public Health Information and Data Strategy.

      The Health Nutritional Assessment, which the researchers created with nutritionist Victor Fulgoni III of Nutrition Impact LLC is a new epidemiology-based nutritional index. HENI calculates the net helpful or harmful health burden associated with a serving of food ingested in minutes of healthy life.

      Assessing the impact on human health
      The score is based on the Global Burden of Illness, disease mortality, and morbidity are linked to a single individual’s eating choice. Researchers employed the GBD to estimate illness burden and 15 dietary risk variables for HENI. They paired them with nutrition profiles of foods consumed in the United States, based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s What We Eat in America database. Foods with high positive scores add healthy minutes to one’s life, while foods with low positive scores are linked to health consequences that are potentially harmful to one’s health.

      Including the environment in the equation
      The researchers used IMPACT World+, a method for assessing the life cycle impact of foods (production, processing, manufacturing, preparation/cooking, consumption, waste), and improved assessments for water use and human health damages from fine particulate matter formation to assess the environmental impact of foods. They calculated scores for 18 environmental indicators using precise food recipes and projected food waste.

      Finally, similar to a traffic light, researchers divided meals into three color zones: green, yellow, and red, based on their nutritional and environmental performance.

      The green zone symbolizes items that should be included in one’s diet and contains both nutrient-dense and low-impact on the environment. Nuts, fruits, field-grown vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and some seafood are common foods in this zone.

      Foods in the red zone have significant nutritional or environmental consequences and should be restricted or avoided in one’s diet. Processed meats and climate were primarily responsible for nutritional impacts, whereas beef and pork, lamb, and processed meats were responsible for most other environmental impacts.

      The researchers agree that all indications vary significantly, and they point out that nutritionally sound meals may not necessarily have the least adverse environmental effects and vice versa.

      “The previous study has typically limited their conclusions to a discussion of plant-based vs. animal-based meals,” according to Stylianou. “While plant-based diets perform better in general, there are considerable variances between plant-based and animal-based foods,” says the researcher.

      The researchers propose the following based on their findings:
      Foods with the most harmful health and environmental effects, such as high-processed meat, beef, and shrimp, are being phased out, followed by pork, lamb, and greenhouse-grown vegetables.
      We increase the consumption of the most nutrient-dense foods, such as field-grown fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and low-impact seafood.
      “The necessity of dietary changes to benefit human health and the environment is clean,” said Olivier Jolliet, a University of Michigan professor of environmental health science and the paper’s senior author. “Our findings show that making minor targeted substitutions is a viable and effective technique for achieving large health and environmental advantages without needing drastic dietary changes.”

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