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The Consequences of Food Choices
Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP --  The Herman Group Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP -- The Herman Group
Austin, TX
Wednesday, November 9, 2022


The Herman Trend Alert

November 9, 2022

The Consequences of Food Choices

For years now, many of us have been aware that making good food choices would have a general positive effect on human longevity. For a while now, we also known that eating some foods, like smoked and preserved meats, were associated with the development of cancer. However, until recently, we did not have specifics on these positive and negative influences.

A Real Breakthrough for Evaluating Dietary Choices

Now, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with expertise in food sustainability and environmental life cycle assessment, epidemiology, and environmental health and nutrition has come together to give us the specific food insights that have been missing for so long. They combined 15 nutritional health-based dietary risk factors and 18 environmental indicators to assess, catalog, and rank more than 5,800 individual foods.

Their Purpose

The researchers wanted to know if drastic changes were required to improve people's individual health and reduce environmental impacts. They also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the animal protein versus plant-based debate beyond identifying environmentally sustainable foods that also promote human health.

Informed Food Decisions

Finally, people will be able to make informed food decisions. Published in the research journal Nature Food, their 2021 study provided some of the first precise numbers for the health consequences of our food choices. Based on their composition, they analyzed the individual foods to calculate each food item's net benefits or impacts. They developed the Health Nutritional Index which turns that information into minutes of life lost or gained per serving size of each food item consumed.

How They Crunched the Numbers

They based their Health Nutritional Index on a large epidemiological study called the Global Burden of Disease, a comprehensive global study and database that was developed with the help of more than 7,000 researchers around the world. This study determined the risks and benefits associated with multiple environmental, metabolic, and behavioral factors---including 15 dietary risk factors. Then the team took the population-level epidemiological data and extrapolated it to the level of individual foods. They considered more than 6,000 threat estimates specific to age, gender, disease, and risk. They factored in the detail that each year is composed of a half-million minutes, then calculated the health burden that comes from consuming one gram's worth of food for each of the dietary risk elements. Finally, using this health and environmental interconnection, they color-coded each food item as green, yellow or red.

An Unhealthy Example

The researchers found that, on average, 0.45 minutes are lost per gram of any processed meat that a person eats in the United States. They multiplied that number by the corresponding food profiles that they had previously developed. Doing the math, the 61 grams of processed meat in a hot dog result in 27 minutes of healthy life lost due to this amount of processed meat alone. Then they took it a step further and analyzed the other risk factors, like the hot dog's sodium and trans fatty acids and counterbalanced that additional risk with the benefit of its polyunsaturated fat and fibers. That's how they arrived at the final value of 36 minutes of healthy life lost per hot dog. Then they repeated that calculation for more than 5,800 foods and mixed dishes.

A Healthy Example

By comparison, they found that eating 30 grams of nuts and seeds provides a gain of 25 minutes of healthy life, an increase in good-quality and disease-free life expectancy. Their analysis also indicated that substituting only 10 percent of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meat for fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and selected seafood could offer substantial health improvements of 48 min gained per person per day and a 33 percent reduction in dietary carbon footprint. It is interesting to note that the largest gains in healthy life compared with all other food types result from eliminating processed meat and reducing overall sodium consumption.

What's Next for this Team

Not surprising to us, the researchers found significant differences between animal-based and plant-based foods. Based on the results, the scientists were able to identify actions that people could both improve their health and reduce their environmental footprint. It is encouraging to see how small, targeted changes can make a meaningful difference for both health and environmental sustainability---one food at a time. The scientists have done these calculations for the United States and Switzerland. Look for these numbers to be crunched for other countries as well and for their Health Nutrient Index to be regularly adapted, incorporating new knowledge and data, as they become available.

Special thanks to Olivier Jolliet and Katerina Stylianou, writing in "The Conversation" for their coverage of this important topic; you can find the entire article at https://knowridge.com/2022/10/individual-dietary-choices-can-add-or-take-away-minutes-hours-and-years-of-life/

Next Week's Herman Trend Alert: Neuroplasticity and How It Can Benefit Leaders

Last weekend, when I spoke at the Enterprise Agility World Conference, I listened to a number of speakers talking about Neuroplasticity and how understanding people's neuro-profiles can make a profound difference in fostering their success, while ignoring these insights can mean reduced productivity and even employee turnover. Next week, this Alert will discuss how to use this information to be a better leader or employee.


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Name: Joyce L. Gioia, CMC, CSP
Title: Certified Speaking Professional and Management Consultant
Group: The Herman Group
Dateline: Austin, TX United States
Direct Phone: 336-210-3548
Main Phone: 800-227-3566
Cell Phone: 336-210-3548
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