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Dietary Recommendations can Increase Greenhouse Gases

Update Date: Sep 05, 2014 11:18 AM EDT

Dietary recommendations created by the federal agencies help guide people on what healthy eating should look like. However, if everyone followed these guidelines, the emissions rate for greenhouse gases could increase, a new study reported.

In this study, researchers from the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems examined the levels of greenhouse emissions linked to around 100 foods. With this data, they analyzed how the rate of greenhouse emissions might change if people started following the diet guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The researchers calculated that if everyone followed the USDA's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" but kept their caloric intake the same, greenhouse gas emissions associated with foods would increase by 12 percent. On the other hand, if people reduced their caloric intake to around 2,000 per day and started eating a healthier diet, greenhouse gas emissions related to diet would be reduced by just one percent.

"The take-home message is that health and environmental agendas are not aligned in the current dietary recommendations," Martin Heller said according to the press release.

In the 2010 guidelines, the USDA recommended people to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood into their diets. The recommendations also stated that people should eat less salt, saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, added sugar and refined grains.

The guidelines did not explicitly tell people to eat less meat. Therefore, if people kept meat consumption at the same level while increasing their intake of the recommended foods, greenhouse gas emissions would increase. If people consumed less meat, however, greenhouse gas emissions could decrease drastically since the production of meats contributes greatly to the emissions rate.

The study, "Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss," was published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

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