Small changes in diet can have a huge impact on life span and carbon emission reduction

Researchers at Canada’s McGill University have found that replacing red and processed meat with plant-based protein foods could extend lifespan and mitigate climate change.

The latest Canada Food Guide presents a paradigm shift in nutritional recommendations, eliminating traditional food categories including meat and dairy and emphasizing the importance of plant-based proteins. However, the full impact of replacing animal foods with plant-based protein foods in Canadians’ diets is unknown.

New research from Canada’s McGill University, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, provides compelling evidence that partially replacing animal foods with plant-based protein foods can extend life expectancy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, it also shows that benefits depend on the type of animal protein being replaced.

The study, published in the journal Nature Food, drew data from a national nutrition survey to analyze Canadians’ dietary records. The study modeled partial replacement (25% and 50%) of red meat and processed meat or dairy products with plant-based protein foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu and fortified soy drinks, based on nutrition, health and climate outcomes.

Small dietary changes, big carbon footprint impact

As a previous study demonstrated, red meat, processed meat and dairy are the leading sources of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Notably, the study found that when a person replaced half of their red and processed meat intake with plant-based protein foods, their diet-related carbon footprint plummeted by 25%. Dairy alternatives, on the other hand, saw smaller declines of up to 5%.

“We show that co-benefits for human and planetary health do not necessarily require large-scale changes in diet, such as adopting restrictive dietary patterns or completely excluding certain food groups, but can be achieved by simply partially replacing red and processed meat. classes, specifically, to replace foods with plant proteins,” explains first author Olivia Auclair, a recent PhD graduate in McGill’s Department of Animal Sciences.

Gender gap in plant-based health benefits

Diets rich in animal products are known to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. In the study, researchers estimated that if a person replaced half of the red and processed meat in their diet with plant-based protein foods, their average lifespan could be extended by nearly nine months due to a reduced risk of chronic disease.

“I hope our findings will help consumers make healthier, more sustainable food choices and inform future food policy in Canada,” said Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at McGill University and Research Scientist at the McGill University Health Center , said senior author Sergio Burgos.

As more and more people seek sustainable and health-conscious diets, the results of this study can serve as a guide to enable individuals to make informed choices that are good for both personal well-being and the planet.

“Increasing the consumption of plant-based foods while reducing the intake of red and processed meat would have huge health and environmental benefits and would require relatively small dietary changes for most people in Canada,” said co-author and hon. said Professor Patricia Eustachio Colombo (Centre for Climate Change and Planetary Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine).