Telling people what to eat is perilous, whether the advice is aimed at a friend or an entire country. Of course, people and governments do it anyway. Dozens of countries have come up with recommendations for the perfect, most health-promoting diet.
Those recommendations are aimed at improving people’s health. But Paul Behrens, a researcher at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, wanted to know whether this advice — if people actually followed it — might affect the environment. Producing foods, after all, has profoundly altered the planet, and those impacts can vary a lot, depending on which foods people demand.
Behrens just published his analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He looked at what would happen if people in 37 different countries followed the dietary recommendations of their own governments. In general, he says, those shifts would be good for the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions would fall, waterways would suffer less pollution from fertilizer, and less land would be required to feed people.