Eating the best thing for the planet can extend your life, says the study

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Following a planet-friendly diet of mostly fruits, vegetables and whole grains cuts the risk of premature death in people by nearly one-third, and significantly reduces the release of planet-destroying greenhouse gases, a new study has found.

“It’s better for both people and the planet to eat more whole plant foods, less animal foods, and less processed foods,” said Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive medicine and lifestyle who was not involved in the study. .

“In this paper, we see that same message amplified: adhering to a dietary pattern that supports the health of the planet and sustainability is associated with significant reductions in all-cause mortality,” he said in an email. Katz is the founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative, a global alliance of experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine.

Food production plays a major role in the climate crisis. Raising livestock for human consumption, for example, uses vast amounts of agricultural land and contributes to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution, experts say.

Animals that chew their cud can emit harmful gases and it has a great impact on the environment. Burps and farts from cattle, sheep and goats generate methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet over the past 20 years, according to the UN Environment Programme.

One adult cow, for example, can put up to 500 liters of methane on the belt or crop per day. Add them up, and they can generate nearly 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, experts say.

Eating a planet-healthy diet, however, cut land use by 51%, greenhouse gas emissions by 29% and fertilizer use by 21%, while also extending people’s lives, according to the study.

“Climate change can help slow climate change, and fortunately the healthiest thing for the planet is better for us,” said the corresponding author. Walter Willettprofessor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

“For every major cause of death we looked at, there was a lower risk in people who adhered better to the planet health diet,” Willett said.

The planetary diet asks you to fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables at every meal.  - Lew Robertson/Stone RF/Getty Images

The planetary diet asks you to fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables at every meal. – Lew Robertson/Stone RF/Getty Images

A diet for people and the planet

In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission, made up of 37 leading scientists from 16 countries, created a diet with two goals – to maximize human health and reduce the environmental impact of feeding billions of people.

The resulting meal plan emphasized higher consumption of a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other plant-based proteins while reducing meat and dairy to small portions.

The study, published Monday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed dietary data collected from more than 200,000 women and men to see how it matched the Eat-Lancet dietary guidelines.

All the people were enrolled in long-term government studies β€” the Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study β€” and had no major illnesses when the research began. Every four years for 34 years, study participants filled out dietary questionnaires, providing researchers with a wealth of data.

Researchers then scored the diets based on intake of 15 food groups. Foods that are good for the planet take fewer overall resources to grow and include whole grains, tubers, vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, soybean foods and unsaturated plant oils, such as olive oil.

Foods that require a lot of land use, such as cattle, and to a lesser extent sheep, goats, pigs and poultry, were also measured, as was the intake of added sugar, which has many known health risks.

While other studies have looked at the diet’s impact on planetary health, none have matched the scope of this study, Willett said. “This is a much larger and much longer study that has had repeated assessments of diet over the past three decades, which allows for greater statistical precision,” he said.

The top 10% of people who followed the Eat-Lancet planetary diet were 30% less likely to die prematurely from any cause than those in the bottom 10%, the study found.

Additionally, those who most closely followed the planetary diet had a 28% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, a 14% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, a 10% lower risk of dying from cancer and a 47% lower risk of dying from cancer. respiratory disease, which also affected non-smokers, Willett said.

β€œThe results show how linked human and planetary health are. Eating healthy contributes to environmental sustainability – which is essential to the health and well-being of everyone on earth,” he said.

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