How much time does unhealthy food eat out of you?
The University of Michigan made some curious discoveries...
Eating a hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of healthy life, while choosing to eat a serving of nuts instead could help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy life.
The study, conducted by the University of Michigan evaluated more than 5800 foods, ranking them by their nutritional disease burden and their impact on the environment. Both of which have an impact on the duration of our lives. The curious findings state 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.
To identify environmentally sustainable foods that promote health, we combined nutritional health-based and 18 environmental indicators to evaluate, classify and prioritize individual foods. Specifically for nutrition, we developed the Health Nutritional Index to quantify marginal health effects in minutes of healthy life gained or lost of 5,853 foods in the US diet, ranging from 74 min lost to 80 min gained per serving. Environmental impacts showed large variations and were found to be correlated with global warming, except those related to water use. Our analysis also indicated that substituting only 10% of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meat for fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and selected seafood could offer substantial health improvements of 48 min gained per person per day and a 33% reduction in dietary carbon footprint. Dietary changes are needed for greater nutrition and sustainability, yet it remains unclear how drastic these changes must be. Combining a new epidemiology-based nutritional index and 18 environmental indicators, this study estimates the positive impact of specific food substitutions.
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. For HENI, 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, based on the "What We Eat in America" database of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Foods with positive scores add healthy minutes of life, while foods with negative scores are associated with health outcomes that can be detrimental for human health.
Food processing and environment
To evaluate the environmental impact of foods, the researchers utilised IMPACT World+, a method to assess the life cycle impact of foods (production, processing, manufacturing, preparation/cooking, consumption, waste), and added improved assessments for water use and human health damages from fine particulate matter formation. They developed scores for 18 environmental indicators taking into account detailed food recipes as well as anticipated food waste.
Finally, researchers classified foods into three colour zones: green, yellow and red, based on their combined nutritional and environmental performances, much like a traffic light.
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Impact on people
The green zone represents foods that are recommended to increase in a person'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 a person's diet. Nutritional impacts were primarily driven by processed meats, and climate and most other environmental impacts - 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. The study offers a solid argument to improve our dietary habits, even with all the uncertainties.
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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.