In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found eating a hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of a healthy life, while choosing to eat a serving of nuts instead could help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy life.
The team evaluated more than 5,800 foods, ranking them by their nutritional disease burden to humans and their impact on the environment.
They found that substituting 10% of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meats for a mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and select seafood could reduce your dietary carbon footprint by one-third and allow people to gain 48 minutes of healthy minutes per day.
This work is based on a new epidemiology-based nutritional index, the Health Nutritional Index. It calculates the net beneficial or detrimental health burden in minutes of healthy life linked to a serving of food consumed.
The index is an adaptation of the Global Burden of Disease in which disease mortality and morbidity are associated with a single food choice of an individual.
In the study, the researchers used 15 dietary risk factors and disease burden estimates from the GBD and combined them with the nutrition profiles of foods consumed in the United States.
Foods with positive scores add healthy minutes of life, while foods with negative scores are associated with health outcomes that can be detrimental to human health.
The researchers classified foods into three color zones: green, yellow and red, based on their combined nutritional and environmental performances, much like a traffic light.
The green zone represents foods that are recommended to increase in one’s diet and contains foods that are both nutritionally beneficial and have low environmental impacts.
Foods in this zone are predominantly nuts, fruits, field-grown vegetables, legumes, whole grains and some seafood.
The red zone includes foods that have either considerable nutritional or environmental impacts and should be reduced or avoided in one’s diet.
Nutritional impacts were primarily driven by processed meats, and climate and most other environmental impacts were driven by beef and pork, lamb and processed meats.
The researchers acknowledge that the range of all indicators varies substantially and also point out that nutritionally beneficial foods might not always generate the lowest environmental impacts and vice versa.
Based on their findings, the researchers suggest:
Decreasing foods with the most negative health and environmental impacts including high processed meat, beef, shrimp, followed by pork, lamb and greenhouse-grown vegetables.
Increasing the most nutritionally beneficial foods, including field-grown fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and low-environmental impact seafood.
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The study is published in Nature Food. One author of the study is Katerina Stylianou.
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