A recent study presented at NUTRITION 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, suggests that certain plant-based foods can improve both human and environmental health. The study used a tool called the Planetary Health Diet Index (PHDI) to assess the impact of different foods on health and sustainability. The results showed that individuals who followed a more environmentally sustainable diet had a 25% lower risk of death over a 30-year period compared to those with a less sustainable diet.
The study's author, Linh Bui, a PhD candidate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, hopes that the research will inform policy decisions and promote strategies to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050. Bui and her team identified five key foods that positively impact human health and have low environmental impacts: whole grains, fruit, non-starchy vegetables (such as cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, and tomatoes), nuts, and unsaturated oils (such as olive, peanut, and walnut oil).
Other research supports the findings of this study. Studies have shown that whole grains can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, while increased fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with reduced mortality. Additionally, nuts have been linked to less weight gain and a lower risk of obesity.
However, it is important to note that the study does not provide detailed information on the specific barriers or challenges individuals may face in adhering to a sustainable diet. Factors such as health conditions, religious restrictions, socioeconomic status, and food availability can influence a person's ability to follow such a diet.
Despite these challenges, dietitians agree that the findings can empower people to make dietary changes. They suggest starting small by gradually introducing more plant-based foods into meals and trying new recipes that incorporate fruits and vegetables. Eating locally sourced foods, reducing food waste, choosing organic produce when possible, and experimenting with plant-based proteins can also contribute to a more sustainable diet.
In conclusion, the study provides evidence that a plant-based diet can improve both human health and the environment. While there may be challenges in adopting a sustainable diet, making small changes over time can lead to positive outcomes for individuals and the planet.