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Eating for your health is also better for the environment, study shows

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

So, you want to reduce your carbon footprint? You might consider improving your diet.

It turns out that healthy eating isn't just good for your body, it can also lessen your impact on the environment.

Scientists say that food production including growing crops, raising livestock, fishing and transporting all that food to our plates is responsible for 20 percent to 30 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, 33 percent of the ice-free land on our planet is being used to grow our food, researchers say.

But altering our diets could change that.

A new study published Monday in PNAS found that if citizens in 28 high-income nations such as the United States, Germany and Japan actually followed the dietary recommendations of their respective governments, greenhouse gases related to the production of the food they eat would fall by 13 percent to 25 percent.

 

At the same time, the amount of land it takes to produce that food could drop by as much as 17 percent.

"At least in high-income countries, a healthier diet leads to a healthier environment," said Paul Behrens, an environmental scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who led the work. "It's win-win."

To come to this conclusion, Behrens turned to Exiobase, a massive input-output database that represents the entire world economy. It allowed him to track not only the environmental cost of growing and raising the various types of food we consume, but also the cost of the machinery involved in the production of that food, and the cost of getting it into our supermarkets and eventually onto our plates.

The database also takes into account that some countries are more efficient at producing food than others. For example, growing tomatoes in England takes more energy than growing them in Spain, where it is warmer. Similarly, a steak from a grain-fed cow in England has a smaller environmental footprint than one from a grass-fed cow in Australia.

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