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A new analysis suggests eating well can do more than improve your health.

Arielle Weg
December 07, 2017

There’s more to eating a nutritious diet than maintaining personal health. A new analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if most countries ate healthier, it could help the planet, NPR reports.

Researcher Paul Behrens from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands looked at the environmental impact if 37 countries followed their government’s dietary guidelines. Using a massive database, Behrens was able to estimate greenhouse gas emissions, demand for land, and fertilizer pollution. He calculated the environmental impact of current dietary patterns and compared it to if everyone changed to follow government recommendations.

For many countries, following the dietary guidelines set by the government would decrease greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from fertilizer, and waterways would suffer less. In addition, less food would be needed to feed people entirely.

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A few government recommendations would have the opposite effect, namely those in low and middle-income nations. In many of these countries, such as South Africa and India, the guidelines recommend consuming more animal products, causing a negative effect on the environment. In addition, some nations, like Switzerland, recommend consuming too much produce, which in turn would cause environmental stress.

Based on this analysis, Behrens suggests more countries consider environmental impact when planning new guidelines. The United States in particular has experienced push back to consider the environment when drafting dietary recommendations. During the most recent dietary guideline update, Congress refused despite scientists urging this consideration. At this time, the Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to disregard environmental considerations when drafting dietary guidelines.