Is your diet good for the environment? Science is linking plate with planet

WASHINGTON — Improving diet could improve not only a person’s health, but also the health of the planet itself.

Because agriculture contributes to greenhouse gases, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction in the scientific community, says Lean Plate Club blogger Sally Squires.

And there’s actually “some matchup between the healthier foods that we could eat and the foods that will be healthier for the planet,” she said.

A recent forum convened by the National Academy of Sciences analyzed four types of diets in terms of their impact on the environment. It found that vegetarian had the lowest negative impact, followed by pescatarian, Mediterranean and omnivorous diets.

From an agricultural perspective, in fact, they found that animal-based foods are “among the largest contributors in agriculture for production of greenhouse gases,” she told WTOP.

Foods producing lower greenhouse gases include …

  • Vegetables
  • Dairy foods
  • Eggs
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Sugar
  • Beans
  • Root vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cereals
  • Temperate-climate fruits (e.g., apples, pears, peaches)

Rice and some tropical fruits, they found, produce a little more greenhouse gases.

Of meats, the study found that poultry produces the least amount of greenhouse gases; followed by pork and line-caught fish; then trawler-caught fish; then ruminant animals like cattle, dear, goats, sheep, etc.

“It really does align that the healthier foods for the planet also are turning out to be some of the healthier foods for us too,” Squires said.

An Italian study, she said, found that switching to a Mediterranean diet (which limits red meat consumption) can lower the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 4 percent and heart disease by up to 6 percent.

Agriculture, scientists say, is responsible for up to 30 percent of human-activity greenhouse gas emissions, such as fossil fuel burning, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock production, fertilization, waste management and industrial processes. It’s also responsible for 70 percent of freshwater use, and it occupies more than a third of potentially cultivable land.

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