How much does a hot dog cost? About 36 minutes of your life

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7 Things You Didn't Know About Hot Dogs

Small changes in diet could help you live healthier, more sustainably, study suggests

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That hot dog you had for lunch might cost you more than a couple of dollars, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Eating a hot dog could cost you 36 minutes of healthy life.

There is good new, however. Choosing to eat a serving of nuts instead could help you gain 26 minutes of extra healthy life, the study found.

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The study evaluated nearly 6,000 foods, ranking them by their nutritional disease burden to humans and their impact on the environment. The researchers found that switching out 10% of the calories you get from beef and processed meat for fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and some seafood can give you 48 more minutes of healthy life each day.

“Generally, dietary recommendations lack specific and actionable direction to motivate people to change their behavior, and rarely do dietary recommendations address environmental impacts,” said Katerina Stylianou, who did the research as a doctoral candidate and postdoctoral fellow in the the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the university’s School of Public Health. She currently works as the director of public health information and data strategy at the Detroit Health Department.

According to a press release from the university, the study “is based on a new epidemiology-based nutritional index, the Health Nutritional Index, which the investigators developed in collaboration with nutritionist Victor Fulgoni III from Nutrition Impact LLC. HENI calculates the net beneficial or detrimental health burden in minutes of healthy life associated with a serving of food consumed.”

The researchers classified foods into three color zones: green, yellow and red, based on their combined nutritional and environmental performances.

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The green zone represents foods that are both nutritionally beneficial and have low environmental impacts. Foods in this zone — nuts, fruits, field-grown vegetables, legumes, whole grains and some seafood — are a “go.”

The red zone is food you should “stop” eating, including those that have either considerable nutritional or environmental impacts and should be reduced or avoided. Nutritional impacts were primarily driven by processed meats, and climate and most other environmental impacts were from beef and pork, lamb and processed meats.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest:

  • Decreasing foods with the most negative health and environmental impacts, including processed meat, beef and shrimp, followed by pork, lamb and greenhouse-grown vegetables.
  • Increasing the most nutritionally beneficial foods, including field-grown fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seafood that has a low environmental impact.

“The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear,” said Olivier Jolliet, senior author of the paper and professor of environmental health sciences at Michigan’s School of Public Health. “Our findings demonstrate that small targeted substitutions offer a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without requiring dramatic dietary shifts.”

You can read the full study in the journal Nature.