Healthier diets could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by up to 17%

“We are what we eat”, says a well-known popular saying according to which the diet we follow has direct consequences on our health. But following a healthy diet is also an effective way to take care of the environment, by reducing the water and carbon footprint caused not only by food production, but also by reducing the health expenses derived from its inadequate consumption.

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara analyzed the potential effects that a healthy diet has not only for the health of Americans, but also for the planet. According to data from the study, in the United States the food sector is responsible for approximately 30% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The cause is the high proportion of animal-based foods in the average American diet, which tend to consume large amounts of red meat and processed products to the detriment of fruits and vegetables. An unhealthy diet is estimated to be responsible for the upsurge in cardiovascular disease and the high rate of obesity and diabetes, diseases that cost the country $3 trillion a year, or 30 percent of all health care spending in the country.

Less red meat and more fruits and vegetables

The scientists modified the average diet of a group of Americans (about 2,000 kilocalories per day), reducing the amount of red and processed meat and doubling the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Using mathematical models, they quantified the health and environmental benefits. The conclusion: a healthy diet reduced between 20 and 40% of heart attacks, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, which translated into a reduction of health costs from 77,000 to 93,000 million per year and a decrease of between 222 and 826 kilograms of pollutant gases per person per year.

“By changing only half of the diet, we see health effects and health costs,” says Cleveland. In terms of environmental policies, according to the researcher, healthier diets could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 17% in the United States . The researcher concludes that the importance of the study lies in demonstrating the importance of food in climate change mitigation programmes and the need to take environmental factors into account in the regulation of the food sector.