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Want to Help Stop Greenhouse Gas Emissions? Rethink What’s on Your Plate

A new report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition talks about how your diet affects the carbon footprint on the Earth, with the conclusion that climate-friendly diets are also healthier — with a few caveats.

Specifically, the study says diets that are high in saturated fats, such as red meat and dairy, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, poultry, plant-based proteins and whole grains produce a low footprint.

The only problem is the so-called carbon-friendly diets also contain “more of some low-emission items that aren't healthy, namely added sugars and refined grains,” MedicalXPress said. “They also had lower amounts of important nutrients — such as iron, calcium and vitamin D — likely because of the lower intakes of meat and dairy.”

The takeaway here is that food production has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and, ultimately, climate change. However, don’t be misled into thinking that chicken, beans and grains are the best foods to put on your plate, if for no other reason than the way these foods are grown and presented in their final forms aren’t good for you in the long run.

To begin with, most chicken today is raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) which, in and of themselves, are major polluters of the Earth. In fact, CAFOs of all kinds, be it pork, chicken or beef and dairy, are notorious polluters of the land, air and water, with problems reported across the U.S.

And, as mentioned in the featured article, whole grains and plant-based proteins like beans end up as processed foods with added sugars, flavors, colorings and preservatives that take away significant amounts of the nutrition value they may have started with. Not only that, they may be contaminated with herbicide or pesticide residues that can be detected in the final product.

What’s left to put on your plate, then? If you're at a loss regarding what's really good for you and what's really not, studies show that not eating enough nuts and seeds ups your risk of death; so do processed meats like bacon, as well as drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages.

Consuming too little fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines raises your risk of dying, as does skimping on the vegetables.

In summary, in the U.S., most people follow family tradition for meals so that generally, they'll consist of protein (meat), vegetables such as potatoes or corn, grains including bread, rice or pasta, a salad and, often, dessert.

That's not all bad, but there are factors to consider. One is portion size, and the unfortunate trend nowadays is that too many people get too much of a good thing. Optimal amounts of good foods for a healthy diet include:

• 3 pieces of fruit a day (but with minimal fructose content)

• 2 cups of cooked or 4 cups of raw veggies per day

• 5 1-ounce servings of nuts or seeds per week (about 20 nuts per serving)

• 8 ounces of seafood weekly

• 1 5- to 8-ounce serving of red meat per week

Besides carbon footprint reasons, restricting your red meat intake is a good thing as excess protein requires your body to rid itself of excess nitrogen waste from your blood, stressing your kidneys, and may lead to dehydration. It also can trigger the pathways rapamycin (mTOR) and GCN2, involved in cancer and aging.

But, when it comes to restricting whole, saturated fats, the fact is dietary fats are actually the preferred fuel of human metabolism. One of the keys to long-term weight management and good health is healthy mitochondrial function, and for that you need to get your net carb, protein and fat ratios correct.

The emphasis is on real whole foods, plenty of healthy fats and as few net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) as possible. As a general rule, you'll want to reduce your net carbs to 20 to 50 grams a day or less, and restrict protein to 1 gram per kilogram of lean body mass.

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