Junk food has a higher carbon footprint than nutritious food

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LEEDS, United Kingdom, December 2, 2021 (ENS) – Eliminating that sweet morning pastry and lunch fries could help fight the climate crisis, new research from Leeds University has found.

Many less nutritious foods and drinks account for nearly a quarter of all diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, the research team found, after studying more than 3,000 generic foods and 40,000 branded items. .

Meat explains 32% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to food; 15 percent drinks; 14 percent dairy products; and eight percent cakes, cookies and confectionery.

Non-vegetarian diets had 59% higher greenhouse gas emissions than vegetarian diets. The larger number of men had 41 percent higher greenhouse gas emissions than that of women.

People meeting the World Health Organization’s Recommended Dietary Intakes, the INRs, for saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sodium had lower greenhouse gas emissions than those exceeding the INRs.

The study confirms that diets that are unhealthy for humans also tend to be bad for the planet. Sweets, cakes and cookies account for 8.5 percent of food-related greenhouse gases. Beverages such as tea, coffee, and alcohol contribute 15.1 percent, for a combined total of 23.6 percent.

While an occasional junk food feast doesn’t hurt much, eating less nutritious foods on a regular basis has been shown to increase your risk for obesity and chronic disease. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and some cancers all have their roots in excessive consumption of junk food.

Previous studies that identified foods with high environmental impact used very broad food groups and linked them to crude estimates of greenhouse gas emissions. While they were useful in highlighting actions that could be taken at the national or population level, they provided limited guidance for individuals and families seeking to limit the climate impact of their personal lifestyles.

The work of the Leeds-led team, published in the scientific journal “PLOS ONE”, under the title “Variations in greenhouse gas emissions from individual regimes: associations between greenhouse gas emissions and UK nutrient intake ”provide a much more detailed picture of the impact of a person’s diet – and the changes each of us can make to our eating habits to combat climate change, while improving its nutrient supply.

Lead author Dr Holly Rippin, post-doctoral researcher at Leeds University School of Medicine, said: ‘We all want to do our part to help save the planet and the decisions we make can help. to this cause. It is true that we need big cultural changes, such as significantly reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products which together contribute about 46% of our food-related emissions.

Sugar is one of the most harmful crops on the planet, according to a WWF study. By replacing habitats rich in animal, plant and insect life, sugar cane plantations destroy biodiversity the most. In addition to its intensive use of water and pesticides, the cultivation of sugar cane and sugar beet also causes erosion. The soil loses its carbon which is now in the atmosphere contributing to global warming. (Photo by anokarina)

“However, our work shows that small changes can also produce big gains. You can live a more eco-friendly life just by cutting out sweets and drinking less coffee, ”said Dr Rippin.

Professor Janet Cade of the University’s School of Food and Nutritional Sciences said, “Obesity-related diseases and disabilities are big problems in most Western countries. This detailed study confirms that diets that are better for the health of the planet are also better for our personal health. It also raises more issues regarding food labeling, as different brands of the same product vary in terms of environmental impact. “

Non-vegetarian diets produced 59% more greenhouse gas emissions than vegetarian diets.

The team concludes that a healthy diet based on unprocessed foods, largely plant-based, is also sustainable. They point to the 2019 IPCC report on climate change which suggests that a switch to this type of diet could prevent a fifth of premature adult deaths while reducing food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 80. percent 1.

Men’s eating and drinking habits also play a major role, contributing 41% more greenhouse gases than women’s food and drink consumption – largely due to their taste for meat and, to a lesser extent, for drinks.

Co-author Dr Darren Greenwood, from the university’s medical school, said: ‘Other studies have suggested that the higher dietary emissions of men reflected their need for more energy. . Unfortunately, it seems they are looking to get those calories from meat rather than low impact foods.

Researchers studied greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and transportation of food and individual brands and used the World Health Organization guidelines on Recommended Nutrient Intake to measure nutrients from these foods.

They then analyzed the food and beverage consumption of 212 adults recorded online using myfood24’s nutritional analysis software over three 24-hour periods.

The research was funded by a prize from the University of Leeds as part of a program to encourage interdisciplinary research that addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The selected image: Preparing a meat feast at a market in Budapest, Hungary, November 28, 2015 (Photo by Peter Sigrist)

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