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Eating Healthier is Good for the Body and the Planet

Update Date: Nov 12, 2014 01:09 PM EST

Adopting a healthier diet is not only good for physical and mental health, it is also beneficial for the planet, a new study reported.

For this study, the researchers headed by ecologist David Tilman at University of Minnesota examined the potential effects that a healthier diet could have on the earth. Tilman, who worked with graduate student Michael Clark, focused on different diets, such as the omnivore, Mediterranean, pescatarian or vegetarian diets. They analyzed data on the environmental costs of food production, diet trends, the link between diet and health, and population growth.

The team found that from 1961 to 2009, people consumed a larger amount of meat protein and empty calories. Based from this trend as well as information on population and income growth, the researchers estimated that by 2050, people would be eating fewer portions of fruits and vegetables. Their consumption of empty calories could increase by 60 percent and consumption of pork, beef, poultry, dairy and eggs could increase by 25 to 50 percent. This type of diet increases risk of illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

The researchers estimated that the omnivore diet could also increase global gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In order to prevent this, Tilman stressed the importance of eating a healthier diet modeled after the Mediterranean, pescatarian and/or vegetarian diets.

"We showed that the same dietary changes that can add about a decade to our lives can also prevent massive environmental damage," said Tilman, reported in the press release. "In particular, if the world were to adopt variations on three common diets, health would be greatly increased at the same time global greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by an amount equal to the current greenhouse gas emissions of all cars, trucks, plans trains and ships. In addition, this dietary shift would prevent the destruction of an area of tropical forests and savannas as large as half of the United States."

The study was published in the journal, Nature.

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