Study reveals how improving our health can help the planet

We all know that sugary and processed foods are bad for our health, but there’s another reason to put down that breakfast Danish.

Australian researchers have found that as well as being bad for your waistline, such foods are affecting the planet.

Junk foods are responsible for up to 33 per cent of our food-related carbon footprint, according to a new study by University of South Australia (UniSA).

UniSA dietitian Sara Forbes led a review of 20 studies on the environmental impacts of food consumption in Australia and NZ.

Food-related emissions account for 14.2 per cent of Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions, while the average person’s diet produces 19.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide daily, according to a federal government report from 2020. 

“It is time we better acknowledged the environmental impacts of the type and amount of food we eat, considering the planet as well as our health,” Ms Forbes said.

‘Core’ foods that are recommended as part of our everyday diet are estimated to contribute up to 73 per cent of emissions in Australia, with meat, grains and dairy producing the most.

But it’s sugary, highly processed food such as pastries and lollies that the study highlights as contributing up to 33 per cent of the nation’s food-related emissions.

Ms Forbes said “discretionary foods have a higher crop land, water scarcity and ecological footprint”.

The average Australian eats more junk food than recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The study highlights the fact that Australians are consuming large amounts of avoidable energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods that are not helping the environment or our health.

The ADG currently lists recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, milk, cheese, yoghurt and alternatives based on their effect on our health.

But researchers say it should factor the environmental impacts of foods into its daily serving suggestions, too.

And with the world’s population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, Ms Forbes said feeding everyone will be impossible “unless we change the way we eat and produce food”.

If you need a little extra motivation, cutting down on those sugary foods has also been shown to be better for our mental health.

Last week, Accredited Practising Dietitian Nicole Dynan told The New Daily when we fill up on sugary foods, we have less room for whole foods that help us make happy chemicals like serotonin.

Although the world may seem a crueller place without your favourite sweet delights, the effects of climate change could be much harder to swallow.

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