“Earth-friendly” foods may also help reduce a person’s risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases by 25 percent, the researchers said.
People who follow a sustainable diet with more plant-based foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts are less likely to die within 30 years than those who eat a less environmentally friendly diet, US scientists have found.
Based on findings presented at Nutrition 2023, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Nutrition in Boston, Massachusetts, researchers have developed a new diet score that shows the impact of food on human health and the environment.
It’s called the Planetary Healthy Eating Index (PHDI), and it scores foods based on available evidence.
The index takes into account the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, bowel cancer, diabetes and stroke, as well as environmental impacts such as water use, land use, nutrient pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The team said their work builds on existing research showing that plant-based foods are healthier and less harmful to the planet than red and processed meat.
The researchers hope the tool will help policymakers and public health agencies develop strategies to improve public health while addressing climate change.
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“We propose a new diet score that combines the best current scientific evidence on the health and environmental effects of foods,” said Linh Bui, a doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“The results confirmed our hypothesis that a higher planetary health diet score was associated with a lower risk of death.”
After developing their tool, the researchers used it to identify and observe outcomes for more than 100,000 people in the United States between 1986 and 2018.
During more than 30 years of follow-up, more than 47,000 people died.
The team found that higher PHDI scores were associated with a 15 percent lower risk of death from cancer or heart disease, a 20 percent lower risk of death from neurodegenerative disease, and a 50 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
Ms Bui said the PHDI may need to be adapted to the culture or religion of different countries.
She also warns that those with specific health conditions or food accessibility issues may find it more challenging to eat an earth-friendly diet.