Lower-carbon diets aren’t just good for the planet, they’re also healthier

Authors: SFSI  faculty affiliate Marty Heller (SEAS) and Diego Rose (Tulane)

Published January 29, 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Full article here


Researchers examined the diets of 16,000 Americans and ranked them by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per 1,000 calories consumed. They also rated the nutritional value of the diets using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index The study discovered that people following diets that had a low carbon footprint ate an overall healthier diet. However, these diets did contain some low-emission foods that aren’t healthy, such as sugars and refined grains, the press release states. Additionally, the climate-friendly diets also contained lower amounts of important nutrients, such as iron, calcium and vitamin D.

Diets that had the most impact on the planet accounted for five times the emissions of those in the lowest-impact group. The diets consisted of more beef, veal, pork, game, dairy and solid fats per 1,000 calories than the diets with low carbon footprint. Martin Heller, co-author and researcher with the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Systems Center at the School for Environment and Sustainability, tells U.S. News that adopting a diet with a low carbon footprint is “beneficial for health and the environment” and that it doesn’t take drastic measures to make a difference. Heller says that one of the biggest changes people can make is to replace beef with plant-based alternatives, such as beans, peas and lentils, as well as meat alternatives, even choosing chicken over beef “is a significant benefit.”