One hotdog takes 36 minutes off your 'healthy' life – but a handful of nuts adds 26 minutes

·3-min read
Hot dog with mustard and ketchup on wooden background. Top view with copy space. Flat lay
A hotdog may be a summer treat, but the processed meat could take more than half-an-hour off your healthy life. (Getty)

When it comes to not-so-healthy indulgences, most agree we can enjoy "everything in moderation".

Although generally considered to be sound advice, scientists from the University of Michigan have warned even the odd treat could take many minutes off your healthy lifespan.

Writing in the journal Nature Food, the team ranked the nutritional profiles of more than 5,800 foods that could be found in "the US diet".

While a hotdog may be a must at a baseball game, summer fête or neighbour's BBQ, indulging in the processed meat takes 36 minutes off your healthy life, the results suggest.

This could be somewhat counteracted with a nutritious snack, however, with a handful of nuts giving back 26 minutes of wellbeing.

Read more: Go plant-based to ward off heart disease

assorted nuts
A handful of nuts is a nutritious snack that could add many healthy minutes to your life. (Getty)

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The Michigan scientists developed a nutritional index that calculates whether a particular type of food adds a net benefit or detriment to our minutes of healthy life.

Using the Global Burden of Disease study, the index analyses 15 dietary risk factors to estimate the effects of a particular food. 

The scientists also took the food's environmental impact into account, including its production, water requirements and waste.

Finally, the different foods were grouped according to a traffic light system. 

The green zone is made up of foods that boost health and have little environmental impact, like nuts, fruit, "field-grown" vegetables, legumes – such as lentils and chickpeas, whole grains and certain seafood.

In contrast, the red zone includes meat – whether red or processed, prawns and "greenhouse-grown" vegetables.

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Substituting just 10% of our daily calorie intake from beef or processed meat in favour of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes and "selected seafood" could add 48 minutes of healthy life every day, while also cutting our carbon footprint by a third (33%), the results suggest.

Overall, the 5,800 foods that were analysed ranged from adding 80 minutes of healthy life per serving to cutting off 74 minutes.

"Generally, dietary recommendations lack specific and actionable direction to motivate people to change their behaviour and rarely do dietary recommendations address environmental impacts," said study author Katerina Stylianou.

The scientists have stressed, however, nutritious foods may not always be the most environmentally friendly, and vice versa.

Watch: Doctor discusses what makes a diet healthy

"Previous studies have often reduced their findings to a plant versus animal-based foods discussion," said Stylianou. 

"Although we find plant-based foods generally perform better, there are considerable variations within both plant-based and animal-based foods."

Nevertheless, the scientists recommend people limit their meat consumption, while upping their intake of field-grown produce, legumes and nuts.

"The urgency of dietary changes to improve human health and the environment is clear," added co-author Professor Olivier Jolliet. 

"Our findings demonstrate small targeted substitutions offer a feasible and powerful strategy to achieve significant health and environmental benefits without requiring dramatic dietary shifts."

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