Today’s Solutions: September 29, 2022

It comes as no surprise that since the dawn of the pandemic, people all over the world began typing “immunity boosting foods” into search engines. In fact, these searches rose by 350 percent. The results? It turns out that some of the food items that were popping up over and over again are also better for the planet.

According to an analysis of the search results for “immunity boosting foods,” researchers from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia examined 150 web pages from six different regions in the world. Out of the 2,556 food recommendations, 83 percent of them were plant-based.

“We found a variation—from a high of Australia’s 82.5 percent plant-based food recommendations to a low of 77.7 percent in the UK,” reports dietician Professor Danielle Gallegos, a co-author of the study.

“While there is no evidence that any one food provides immunity from infectious disease, a person’s overall diet can affect their health and disease susceptibility.”

She goes on to stress that the only evidence-based approach to immunity is vaccination, but that there are also clinical studies that demonstrate how a poor diet can increase the risk of infection.

Plant-based foods are often full of vitamins and minerals that help protect against disease and increase resistance to infection, such as vitamin D, zinc, and phytonutrients.

The top six recommended food groups were all plant-based and included leafy green veggies, nuts, and lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables like tomatoes.

Are immunity-boosting foods better for the environment?

Dr. Ayesha Tulloch, another co-author of the study, explains how the team measured how good each type of food is for the environment.

“For each of [the recommended] foods, we determined how the agricultural production of a serving impacted five types of environmental degradation: greenhouse gas emissions, land use, scarcity-weighted freshwater use, and acidification of soil and eutrophication (two forms of nutrient pollution) using data from two global studies,” Dr. Tulloch says.

By using this method, the team discovered that the average environmental impact of frequently recommended foods is generally lower than those that were hardly recommended. This is especially true regarding greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

It’s worth noting, however, that this wasn’t true for the impact on aquatic environments due to the levels of chemicals and freshwater used in the foods’ production.

There were also a few frequently recommended foods that went against the grain, such as eggs, yogurt, and poultry, which are linked to some of the worst health impacts for disease risk and score poorly in terms of environmental impact.

Why is this important?

Since the public is increasingly interested in food health and the environment, the researchers stress that now is the perfect moment to invest in educating people.

“Empowering the public to change eating habits and food consumption to more sustainable practices is complex and requires a combination of approaches, and online information should not be disregarded in this mix,” says Professor Gallegos.

“In times of crisis when people are more likely to seek information, there is an opportunity to engage with the public online and build awareness of beneficial behavior change.”

Source study: Ambio—Environmental and public health co-benefits of consumer switches to immunity-supporting food

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