The University of Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food has found that the Brazilian diet has increased in ultra-processed foods which are linked to negative impacts on the environment. The results echo the dietary changes in the UK.

A 30 year study on Brazilian diets has found the levels of ultra-processed foods  is increasing, taken from the household budget survey data taken from urban Brazilian households between 1987 to 2018. 

The findings showed that Brazil has undergone a nutritional transition towards ultra-processed food. These foods, such as reconstituted meat products, ready meals, margarines and foodstuffs containing artificial sweeteners, are linked to bad health such as obesity, heart disease and cancer. Production is also bad for the environment, releasing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing Brazil’s water footprint and ecological footprint (through deforestation).

The study found that processed and ultra processed food was replacing less environmentally damaging unprocessed foods, predominantly in ultra processed meats which has reached about 20% of total diet-related footprints over the 30-year time frame.

Per 1,000 calories consumed, these changes in the diet were associated with a 21 per cent increased contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, 22 per cent increased contribution to the nation’s water footprint and 17 per cent increased contribution to its ecological footprint.

Britain went through a similar dietary transition over the 20th century. Evidence from Brazil reflects this, indicating the dietary transition of other countries is becoming more globalised. This has large threats for the environmental impact of food as more countries increase the amount of ultra processed food in their diets. 

These findings reflect Britain’s dietary transition over the past 100 years, indicating a pattern of dietary conversion towards ultra processed foods that more countries are likely to follow in the future. These will exacerbate global health problems and the environmental impact of production. This study also calls for a dietary change to protect the environment. 

Co-author of the study, Dr Christian Reynolds, visiting fellow from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food and Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London said: “For our health and sustainability, ultra-processed foods are already a massive and growing problem.  This study shows that Brazil is experiencing a similar transition in their diet to what has happened in the UK. Both in a shorter time frame and with similar large effects on the environment.

Dr Ximena Schmidt, co-author and Global Challenges Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Energy Use, Brunel University London, said: “This study shows for the first time how increasing the consumption of ultra-processed foods has produced more greenhouse gas emissions and used more water and land, even in developing countries like Brazil. We need to help people change their diets to protect the environment and live healthy lives. We need to finally acknowledge that impacts to the environment and health have to be tackled together.”

Read the full article here.