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June 2017 Issue




Eating to Stay Healthy Lowers Carbon Footprint

Recent research has mined the field of diet patterns that lower environmental impact, demonstrating that a plant-based diet has a lower impact. And now a recent study has taken that concept a step further by linking diet to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by medical care.

Researchers at the University of California and Oxford University conducted the first study ever to examine the impact of GHG emissions from both diet and medical care linked to the diet-related diseases type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and coronary heart disease. They compared three diet patterns: 1) Compared with the standard U.S. diet, this diet was twice as high in fruit and vegetable intake, refined grains were partially replaced with whole grains, and red and processed meats were reduced and replaced with peas and beans; 2) a diet with further reduction of red and processed meats; and 3) a diet that eliminated red and processed meats completely. Added sugar, dairy, eggs, fish, or non-red meat were not reduced.

The first two diets reduced the risk of disease by 20 percent. The third diet reduced risk by 40 percent, with a $93 billion reduction in health care costs (almost half the current cost for treating those three diseases). The estimated effect of reducing GHG emissions was 222 kg per person per year (almost one-fifth of the total amount). The researchers also noted that these findings were conservative, since the diets still included sugar, dairy, eggs, and non-red meat.