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Small dietary changes can benefit your health and the environment: study

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Ann Arbor, MI — Small changes to your diet can lead to a longer, healthier life – and also help the planet, according to researchers from the University of Michigan.

Looking at more than 5,800 kinds of food typically consumed in the United States, comparing their nutritional and environmental impacts, and categorizing them, the researchers found that “small, targeted food-level substitutions can achieve compelling nutritional and environmental impact reductions.”

For example, choosing to eat a hot dog may cost you 36 minutes of healthy life, whereas consuming one serving of nuts may add 26 minutes of healthy life. Changing 10% of your daily diet from high-processed meats to fruits, vegetables and other foods “could reduce your dietary carbon footprint by one-third” and allow you to gain 48 healthy minutes per day.

The researchers recommend reducing consumption of foods “with the most negative health and environmental impacts,” such as high-processed beef and shrimp, while increasing intake of field-grown fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and low environmental-impact seafood – “the most nutritionally beneficial foods.”


Senior researcher Olivier Jolliet, a professor of environmental health sciences in the UM School of Public Health, said in a press release: “The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear. Our findings demonstrate that small, targeted substitutions offer a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without requiring dramatic dietary shifts.”

The study was published online Aug. 18 in the journal Nature Food.

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