New study finds healthy food is also good for the planet

You may already be aware of the positive impacts Mediterranean, pescatarian and/or vegetarian meals can have on your health and well-being, but did you know these ways of eating are also healthier for the planet? A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published in the scientific journal Nature found that following these types of diets not only prolonged life, it also reduced the eater's personal carbon footprint.

Global diet projections

The authors of the study researched the relationship between increasing incomes and food consumption between 1961 and 2009. They found that as incomes went up, people consumed not only more meat, but also more calories per person. Given that the global population and incomes in the developing world are expected to continue increasing in coming years, the researchers calculated that by the year 2050, typical meals would contain more meat, eggs and dairy.

Animal products and the environment

A diet higher in cholesterol isn't only bad for waistlines, it's also bad for the planet. According to GreenChoices.org, there are numerous reasons why animal products wreak havoc on the environment. For one thing, about one-third of the world's grain is fed to livestock – an intensive farming practice that utilises millions of hectares of fertile soil.

Fossil fuel use is also considerable in animal and livestock production. Cattle and other animals create excessive amounts of nitrous oxide and methane, greenhouse cases that perpetuate climate change. Furthermore, the transportation of meat is known to cause enormous spikes in fossil fuel use. Shipping and transporting millions of kilos of meat across the world is responsible for copious amounts of CO2 emissions.

Finally, the antibiotics often given to feedlot animals are cause for concern. Growth hormones that are commonly used to increase production necessitate the use of medicines and antibiotics to keep animals alive. This fact has caused a number of food and environmental advocates to speak out about the use of antibiotics in meat production, and how these drugs could be impacting antibiotic resistance.

Good for the body

The University of Minnesota researchers concluded that following pescatarian, vegetarian and/or Mediterranean diets could improve health as well as reduce environmental impact.

The Mediterranean diet is one lifestyle choice that has been proven to have a number of benefits for heart health, according to the Mayo Clinic. This method of eating relies on plentiful servings of fruits and vegetables alongside low-calorie protein sources, particularly fish. The diet also relies on large amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocados, and advocates drinking red wine in moderation. Sound yummy? You'll be even more impressed to discover that following such a diet was associated with a reduced risk for developing heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Pescaterian and vegetarian diets, too, were shown to have dramatic impacts on health. The University of Minnesota researchers found that these diets were correlated with a reduced risk for diabetes, cancer and coronary mortality.

Good for the planet

Finally, we get to the best news of all: Throwing healthy foods like fresh veggies, sustainably raised fish, whole grains and minimally processed starches into your reusable bag isn't just good for your body, it's good for the planet.

"We showed that the same dietary changes that can add about a decade to our lives can also prevent massive environmental damage," ecologist and study leader David Tilman said. "In particular, if the world were to adopt variations on three common diets, health would be greatly increased at the same time global greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by an amount equal to the current greenhouse gas emissions of all cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships."

Better health and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions … what's not to like about that?