Comparison of the environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet
Di Cagno R
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Introduction: The foods we produce and consume may affect our health and well-being, but for sure have a great impact on the environment. Plant-based foods have been described as protective against chronic diseases and, at the same time, share a remarkably lower environmental impact. In this framework, data are emerging on how dietary models may affect the environment, with plant based food diets clearly emerging as advantageous. However, there is a lack of in-formation about the real impact of specific food choices on parameters associated to environmental impact. Objectives: Determining the environmental impact of omnivo-rous, vegetarian, and vegan diets in the real-life context of an Italian small cohort of volunteers. Method / Design: In an Italian observational multicentre cohort study, 153 volunteers were enrolled (51 omnivorous, 51 vegetarians and 51 vegans, matched for gender, age, BMI and smoking habits). Food intake was monitored with a 7 days dietary record. The Euro-pean Institute of Oncology database was used to calculate nutritional values. The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition database was used to evaluate environmental impacts, taking into account three indexes: carbon footprint, water footprint, and ecological footprint. Results: The qualitative analysis of food patterns stressed the crea-tion of well-matched diet groups based on their self-reported eating habits. Energy intakes were similar among the three diets. The om-nivorous choice generated significantly worse carbon and ecological footprints (p< 0.001) than other diets, whereas the water footprint was significantly lower for the vegetarian choice (p< 0.001). Conclusions: A plant-based diet, especially the ovo-lacto-vege-tarian approach, represents a clear environmental advantage. To reach an environmentally sustainable scenario, animal-based foodstuffs should be partially replaced with legumes, cereals, fruits and vege-tables, in particular in season and locally grown food, according to nutritional guidelines.