Ask ten nutritionists or health influencers what the optimal diet is for your health, and you will probably get ten different answers. Is it low-fat, low-carb, intermittent fasting, keto, paleo, vegan, Whole30, carnivore, or something else?
The good news is that regardless of how much all those diets may differ, one principle that all nutritionists and health influencers worth their salt will agree on: you should avoid highly processed foods and refined sugars.
That said, there is growing momentum behind a different approach to figuring out the optimal diet. Some people think that we should focus our diets on foods that are optimal for the health of our planet.
The sentiment behind this is entirely understandable. We need to take better care of our environment. What’s the point of optimizing our health if there isn’t a hospitable place to live sometime in the near future? Think that sounds dramatic? Talk to someone that spent this past summer in Texas, and they’ll tell you just how hospitable things are already.
This is where things start getting a little hairy. Say you want to eat the best foods for your health AND the planet. Where does that land you? Unfortunately, it will land you in a complicated and contradictory predicament.
According to a recent study that examined over 57,000 food products, the foods with the lowest environmental impact were sports drinks, soda, chips, bread, rice, and onion rings. That’s right. If you care about climate change, you should start eating more onion rings.
Processed foods is never the answer for any social problem
You can’t make this stuff up. That list of foods sounds more like the ideal recipe to develop type 2 diabetes than anything else.
So how did researchers come to these findings? They looked at greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water stress to measure the environmental impacts of each food. Using these criteria, the foods with the highest environmental impact were beef, poultry, eggs, cheese, dairy, and fish.
If anything positive came out of this study, it is that plant-based meat alternatives were also ranked among the foods with the highest environmental impact.
The key takeaway? While we should all care about the impact we have on the environment, we also need to be careful as that sentiment gets weaponized by Big Food to steer us in the direction of eating more processed junk.
You shouldn’t have to feel as though you are picking between giving yourself type 2 diabetes and saving the planet when choosing what foods to eat. Plenty of amazing brands and small farms raise meat and animal products using regenerative practices that are great for our planet’s health.
What those farmers are doing is so much better for the environment than the process of putting soda inside of a can, and that is something we don’t need a study to make sense of in our heads.
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