The Health & Environmental Impact Of Your Favorite Foods, Found

Unsurprisingly, the foods that scored the worst from an environmental perspective were processed meat, beef, and shrimp, followed by pork and lamb. Processed meat and red meat also had a heavy heath toll.

“From a health standpoint, eliminating processed meat and reducing overall sodium consumption provides the largest gain in healthy life compared with all other food types,” study authors write in a statement on their results. “Getting rid of beef, then pork and lamb, is really the priority,” Jolliet says.

As for what to replace these items with, field-grown fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-environmental-impact seafood and nuts all scored high points for both health and environmental impact. While some nutritious foods came with a surprisingly high global warming impact in the report (such as greenhouse-raised vegetables, which can be energy-intensive to produce, and some farm-raised fish), for the most part, foods that are healthy for us also tend to be better for the environment.

“Finally, foods classified in the amber zone, such as dairy, poultry, and several grain-based dishes, offer acceptable alternatives if used to substitute foods from the dark red zone or to meet specific nutrient requirements (for example, vitamins and minerals),” the statement continues.

Now, the study’s authors didn’t set out to make us all obsess over the number of minutes we’re adding or taking off of our lives with each bite of food. Instead, Jolliet hopes that people use this research as inspiration to replace just a few of the red foods in their life with green ones—both for the sake of their health and the planet.

After all, swapping out just 10% of daily calories from nutritionally and environmentally detrimental foods (about half a serving of processed meat or beef) was found to result in a nutritional health gain of 48 minutes and a 33% carbon footprint reduction in the study. Not bad for one diet shift.

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