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Diet Awareness Behavior Environment

Mixed Diet: Balancing Diet And Carbon Footprint

1 month, 3 weeks ago

2117  0
Posted on Apr 26, 2024, 2 p.m.

Along with becoming more health conscious, some people are also becoming more aware of their impact on Earth and are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. What we eat impacts our health, and it can also impact the environment. Previous research has looked at the impact of diets in general terms, this study published in Science Advances from the University of Tokyo explores the issue in a more nuanced dish-level approach. 

According to the researchers, dish-based approaches better reflect how food is actually prepared and consumed in any given local context, in turn, better reflecting cultural preferences for certain tastes, methods, and acceptability of certain food items. Additionally, dish-based approaches also better reflect the relative availability of certain foods. Knowledge of the impacts of diets using dish-based approaches rather than broad food groups can help people make more informed choices as well as help the food industry improve its practices. 

"Our main conclusion is this: Mixed diets can offer good health and environmental outcomes. This is because mixed diets can afford consumers a larger diversity of dishes that can meet both nutritional requirements and have low carbon footprints," said the lead author of the study, Associate Professor Yin Long from the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering. 

"We identified trade-offs in terms of nutrition, carbon footprint, and price for individual dishes with multiple ingredients, rather than using broad food categories such as red meat, fish, or vegetables, as has been done in most similar studies so far. Although dishes from the same broad categories such as beef-based or fish-based dishes exhibit familiar trends as found in other studies in having comparatively higher carbon footprints, there are times when dishes do not follow the patterns of their respective food groups. It is also interesting to see a large concentration of dishes with low nutrient density and correspondingly low emissions and prices," explains Long.

By analyzing data on 45 popular dishes in Japan consisting of multiple ingredients and different cooking times, the researchers found that some diets based on dishes with a greater portion of plant-based ingredients tend to have lower carbon footprints. However, sometimes these fail to meet the daily requirements for some nutrients, while mixed diets tend to strike a balance between meeting daily nutritional requirements and carbon footprint because mixed diets afford a larger combination of dish ingredients than stricter diets. 

"We should stress that we do not believe that impact analyses based on food groups and dishes are mutually exclusive, though. Instead, we believe they are highly complementary. For example, approaches relying on food groups can reveal broadly what sustainable diets can look like and how to achieve them at the production level, pointing to feasible directions for transforming food systems at the global and international levels," said Professor Alexandros Gasparatos, another author of the study from the University of Tokyo's Institute for Future Initiatives. "At the same time, we believe dish-based approaches can inform better the day-to-day organization of food consumption at the national and local levels, by acting as a reality check to inform, design, and convey feasible and acceptable ways to steer dietary habits toward more sustainable directions."

"Varying cultural preferences and ingredient availability lead to radically different ways to build healthy and sustainable diets between different countries and local contexts," said Gasparatos. "Dietary choices have important ramifications for human health and the environment. On the one hand, unhealthy dietary habits have been associated with the increased prevalence of obesity, diabetes and various types of cancers. On the other hand, food production can have severe environmental impacts through land use, carbon emissions, methane emissions, water pollution, and overconsumption and more. I myself have tried to make some diet-conscious changes in the last couple of years before working on this study. However, the engagement with this research reaffirmed my belief that mixed diets offer lots of benefits and helped me to identify some items and dishes to maybe be consumed in moderation."

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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