Plant-based diet is beneficial for the health of humans and the planet, researchers report.

In recent years, experts have claimed that the global food system is driving both the climate crisis and the growing burden of common chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

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But in a new study by a team at the University of Otago, it was discovered that consuming less meat and animal products could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also greatly improving population health in the coming decades.

“As our modelled dietary scenarios became increasingly plant-based and therefore more climate-friendly, we found that associated population-level health gains and healthcare cost savings tended also to increase,” said medical student Jono Drew. “A scenario that replaced all meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products with plant-based alternatives, and that also required people to cut out all unnecessary household food waste, was found to offer the greatest benefit.”

The researchers developed a database focused on New Zealand-specific food emissions and considered the ‘lifecycle’ of each food, including farming and processing, transportation, packaging, warehouse and distribution, refrigeration needs, and supermarket overheads. They were then able to predict climate, health, and health system cost impacts, and ultimately claimed that a population-level dietary shift could have the potential to offer diet-related emissions savings of between four to 42 per cent annually and enormous cost savings to the health system over the lifetime of the current population.

“Essentially, the message is highly comparable to that being delivered in other countries already, and we should be rapidly looking for ways to effectively support our population in making eating pattern changes,” he added.

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