June 24, 2024

People who eat more sustainably have a 25 percent lower risk of death – new research

Following a sustainable diet is a win-win for your health and the planet, according to new research.

Scientists from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the United States have found that people who eat food that is more environmentally sustainable. 25 percent lower risk of death compared to those with a less sustainable diet.

A sustainable, good-for-you diet, also known as a ‘planetary health diet’, includes whole grains, fruit, nuts, non-starchy vegetables, and unsaturated oils (such as olive oil). Starchy vegetables include beetroot, parsnips, peas and potatoes. This is in contrast to foods such as eggs and red and processed meat, which are considered less environmentally friendly.

The study involved over 100,000 participants in the US, with a 30-year follow-up period in which 47,000 of the participants died.

The results, which were presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s conference 2023 in Boston, USA, that the participants who had a good planet health diet had a reduced risk for all causes of death measured in the study. These included cancer, cardiovascular disease (which can cause heart attacks), infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.

According to Linh BuiPhD candidate at Harvard who presented the findings, the research team compiled the “best current scientific evidence” on the effect of different foods on human health and the natural world,

Using this combined data, the scientists created the Planetary Health Diet Index, and gave participants scores based on their diets. Using this, they assessed the relationship between the scores and the participants’ health outcomes.

“The results confirmed our hypothesis that a higher Planetary Health diet score was associated with a lower risk of mortality,” Bui said.

Those with the highest Planetary Health Index scores had a 25 percent lower overall risk of death than those with the lowest scores. When broken down into more specific causes of death, those with higher scores had a 15 percent lower risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease, a 20 percent lower risk from neurodegenerative disease, and a whopping 50 percent lower risk from respiratory disease.

The environmental impact of the foods was assessed through factors such as water use, land use, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers hope that the index can be used as a simple tool for policy makers and public health services to improve human health and tackle the climate crisis at the same time.

However, they acknowledge that the index does not take into account certain challenges that people may have in following a sustainable diet, such as health conditions, religious restrictions, or the socioeconomic availability of food. They hope that further research will address these barriers, as well as the relationships between foods and diseases that are tailored to certain countries.

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