The University Network

Eat Veggies! It Will Make You And The Earth Healthier

Eating a diet of poultry, whole grains and vegetables isn’t just beneficial to your health; it is also better for the environment!

By assessing the carbon footprint of what more than 16,000 individuals consume in a day, researchers from Tulane University and the University of Michigan have found that environmentally-conscious eaters also have healthier diets.

“People whose diets had a lower carbon footprint were eating less red meat and dairy — which contribute to a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions and are high in saturated fat — and consuming more healthful foods like poultry, whole grains and plant-based proteins,” Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

This research comes at a pivotal time, as the world is in desperate need to find sustainable ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“Global climate change is real and happening much faster than scientists originally suspected,” Rose said. “Livestock alone accounts for 14 percent of worldwide emissions, with beef and dairy contributing the majority of this.”

Encouraging people to eat less red meat and dairy would lead to a healthier earth and population.

The study

To conduct the study, the researchers built an extensive database showing the unique carbon footprints of many different types of foods. By linking this information with data from a nationwide survey that asked people what they ate over a 24-hour period, the researchers were able to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions created by different people’s diets.

They then ranked the diets by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per 1,000 calories consumed. They also rated the nutritional value of the foods using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index.

They concluded that Americans who ate diets with the lowest carbon footprint were also eating healthy.

However, there are a couple of outliers. Some foods, such as sugars and refined grains, carry a small carbon footprint, but they aren’t as healthy.

A paper describing the full study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

What can be done on college campuses?

As pioneers pledged to educate upcoming generations of people, colleges and universities have a responsibility to encourage environmentally friendly eating habits.

“Students can raise awareness of these issues among themselves and among those that run the campus dining halls,” said Rose.

“There are many interesting ways to get involved,” he continued. “For example, in the Tulane University dining halls, they started to offer vegan and vegetarian stations, where students who were motivated by these concerns would have tasty and healthy options.”

Tulane isn’t the only school that has taken action.

Dining halls at other universities have started making more dishes with chicken instead of beef and serving blended burgers, which include 80 percent beef and 20 percent mushroom, Rose said.

“Consumers can’t tell the difference, but the end product is healthier and more climate-friendly,” he continued.

On a larger scale, the World Resources Institute has started The Cool Food Pledge, an initiative that dining services at schools, hospitals and other public facilities can sign on to in order to mitigate climate change.

What’s next?

The researchers’ work isn’t over.

In future research, they plan to test how much water usage different diets require, and they will look at the effects of the simple solutions consumers can make to limit their individual carbon footprints, Rose said.

“If we can find simple changes that make a difference, we’re hoping that they would be more likely to be adopted,” he continued.