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Is a diet low in greenhouse gas emissions a nutritious diet?


Climate change is largely caused by human activities, such as large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and will affect human health in a negative way. A new Swedish study, based on a survey among 5,000 women and men of different ages, shows that it is possible to eat in a way that is smart for both humans and the environment.

Katarina Bälter (Professor of Public Health at Mälardalens University in Sweden) investigated whether it is possible to get all the nutrients we need from food habits that generate low greenhouse gas emissions, compared to food habits that are associated with high greenhouse gas emissions. The results show that there are people whose food habits have a low carbon footprint and at the same time adhere to the dietary guidelines in the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations.

Climate change is an urgent global issue and the food sector is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change (caused by global warming) is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Climate change will affect human health in the future. Therefore it is important to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in all sectors of society and we can all contribute in different ways.

The aim of this research is to draw attention to the fact that climate friendly food habits can also be healthy food habits and can contribute to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, says Katarina Bälter.

This study showed that there are large differences in diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. Men and older people tend to have food habits that generate higher emissions than women and younger people. Beef, pork and dairy products generate the most greenhouse gas emissions while plant-based foods such as roots, beans, grains, vegetables and fruit generates the least. But it is also important to think about eating seasonally, as fresh fruit can have a high climate impact if transported by air from the other side of the globe. “Overall it is possible to eat both climate friendly and nutritious” says Katarina Bälter.

In the next steps of the study, Katarina Bälter will look more closely at the link between food habits with low climate impact and human health.

This work was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council, The Alpro Foundation and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.
- Prof. Dr. Katarina Bälter

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