Insects, mycoproteins or vegan, better nutrition for the climate

FOOD – Food plays an important role in the environmental footprint of consumers. In 2019, it accounted for up to 24% of the carbon footprint of French households, according to Ademe (Ecological Transition Agency). In an attempt to reduce these effects, many studies show that a green diet is one of the most effective solutions.

One of these is fairly new and was published in health food April 25th. The researchers looked at plant-based diets (vegetarians and vegans) and new foods (or novel foods). This term denotes any new food product for humans, such as cultured milk, insect meal or mycoproteins (proteins from fungi).

Scientists have shown that compared to classic omnivorous diets, those with vegetables or “novel foods” would be beneficial in the fight against climate change. They would reduce the potential for global warming, water and land use by more than 80%.

Food with low environmental impact

To conduct this study, the authors rely on data from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). They then selected 124 foods and analyzed them through the prism of three indicators from Agribalyse, a life cycle analysis (LCA) database: land use, water use and die
global warming potential.

The researchers then found that switching to a vegan diet (vegan diet in the table below) or based on new foods (NFF in the table below) reduced the environmental impact by more than 80% while being nutritionally acceptable.

Rather vegan or entomophagous?

The two diets suggested by the researchers are far from the majority in our Western culture, and dietary changes can be difficult due to entrenched dietary traditions. At the global level, the situation is somewhat different. For example, entomophagy (human eating insects) is not an uncommon practice.

According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), more than two billion people are affected worldwide. This is especially true in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where insects feature on the menu of many dishes.

Plant-based diets (vegetarian or vegan) are not neglected, although researchers estimate that they bring together around a billion and a half people. However, there is an important nuance to consider, and that is that the vast majority of people who adopt a plant-based diet do so out of necessity (e.g., because they don’t have the means to eat meat). Conversely, only 1% of the world’s population (about 75 million) has made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet.

The importance of food quality

So the environmental impact would be very positive, we must not forget the health issue either. When the researchers explain that these diets provide the necessary nutrients for humans and that a green diet has many benefits, certain products such as soy meat or mycoproteins are ultra-processed and therefore not very healthy.

As they are manufactured using industrial processes (e.g. using additives), this leads to their health benefits being questioned.

“A distinction must be made between healthy plant-based foods and unhealthier foods, giving too much of a share, in particular to so-called ultra-processed products or other products whose nutritional quality may be similar, to what is sometimes referred to as ‘junk food’,” warns Benjamin Allès , epidemiologist at EREN (The Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team) and member of the NutriNetSanté study.

See also on the HuffPost: A kebab in space for the anniversary of the first space flight

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