Don’t you just love the advice to eat better?
Silly question, isn’t it?
In fact, we all hate to hear those words in big part because we don’t know specifically what “better” is. Oftentimes, it’s conflicting. And it typically doesn’t include our favorite indulgences.
Those are just a few reasons why so many of us struggle to choose a healthy diet and stick to it.
That’s exactly the problem that one study by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan set out to solve, by helping us understand how foods impact our health — in real time.
In other words, which foods add or subtract minutes from your life.
And while they were at, they decided to take a deep dive into which foods were not only better for our health, but more sustainable for the planet.
Food choices versus disease burden
The study, published in the journal Nature Food, evaluated more than 5,800 foods using a model called the Health Nutritional Index. The index calculates the net beneficial or detrimental health burden of different types of food in minutes of healthy life.
In other words, some foods add minutes to your life (the good guys), while others (the evil-doers) take those minutes away.
The researched used 15 separate dietary risk factors plus disease burden estimates to come to their conclusions.
And three you’re not going want to miss are:
- Eating a good old hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of healthy life. Yup, that’s a dog that just dropped a big one!
- On the other hand, eating a serving of nuts could help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy life. Definitely nut power for the win!
- Finally, substituting just 10 percent of your daily caloric intake from beef and processed meats for a mix of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and select seafood could reduce your disease burden and help you gain 48 minutes of healthy minutes per day!
Clearly, the minutes (for good or for bad) can really add up.
Food’s carbon footprint
And with more people considering sustainability in agriculture and choosing plant-based options with a smaller carbon footprint, what foods did the researchers say get the green light?
Well, after assessing the life cycle impact of foods (production, processing, manufacturing, preparation/cooking, consumption, waste), they developed scores for 18 environmental indicators.
And foods they say you can feel good about eating include predominantly nuts, fruits, field-grown vegetables, legumes, whole grains and some seafood.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, foods that get a big red stoplight are beef and pork, lamb and processed meats.
So skip the hot dogs and processed meats, cut back on other types of meat and go more plant-based, adding plenty of fruits and veggies and of course, that hand full of nuts to your daily diet to gain healthy minutes with every meal.
And if you’re struggling with going plant-based, even small changes, like boosting the amount of protein you get from plant sources can do big things for your health, especially when it comes to your heart.
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