Posted on Mar 16, 2021, 7 p.m.
Can shifting eating habits be better for your body and the earth at the same time? Some nutritionists and scientists think that making changes to what we eat can help to save the planet.
The planetary health diet is not surprisingly largely based on eating plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and more plant-based proteins that was released by a group of experts that formed the EAT-Lancet Commission as a science-based, accessible solution to the growing population in a struggling environment.
“Current diets are pushing the Earth beyond its planetary boundaries, while causing ill health. This puts both people and the planet at risk,” the commission said in a statement.
“To be healthy, diets must have an appropriate calorie intake and consist of a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars. The food group intake ranges that we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, and individual dietary preferences — including numerous omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets.”
An international team of 37 scientists studied and researched practices around the globe and developed an approach to eating and producing food for people and the planet. Their result was a flexible plant-based diet after examining the best possible ways of shifting eating habits to better human wellness and environmental health at the same time.
A planetary health diet is represented by a plate being half-covered with fruits and vegetables and the other half being covered with a combination of whole grains, plant protein, and a small amount of animal protein, plant oils, dairy foods, and a very little amount of added sugars. This diet is in favor of unsaturated fats while limiting refined grains and highly processed foods as well as added sugars.
While being similar to a flexitarian diet, it is more similar to a vegetarian diet being largely based on consuming mostly plant foods, but it is not as restrictive as a vegan diet as it includes a wide variety of foods. Due to this meal plan not being very restrictive, there are lots of options and possibilities.
One of the leading scientists who worked on the report, Fabrice DeClerck says that this diet recommends eating 0-120 grams of lean beef per week. This means for those who are vegan or vegetarian will need to find other sources of protein and vitamin B12. Those who want to continue consuming meat still can, but the roughly quarter pound of beef may be an adjustment making it like a weekly treat which ideally comes from free-range grass-fed hormone-free cattle raised with environmentally friendly or regenerative practices.
"The recommendations were published using daily values. I’d recommend that your readers not sweat the daily values so much, but ask how they can eat within the ranges provided on a weekly basis," DeClerck told TODAY. "Look for a balance of meals with no meat, or a combination of meals like stir frys with smaller portions of meat, and save that burger or roast (if you want it) for every other week, or a special monthly meal."
The research from the international team showed that many parts of the world are over-consuming beef, other meats, sugars, and other unhealthy foods, while other parts of the world would stand to benefit from consuming more meat to help address anemia and other kinds of nutrient deficiencies. However, universally they found underconsumption of healthy and protective foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
"From the stats point of view, if we were able to provide the planetary health diet to everyone everywhere we would be able to avert 11 million deaths per year, and produce enough food for 10 billion people within environmental limits," the science director, DeClerck.
The National Academy of Sciences predicts that food production will need to double in order to keep up with the population. According to Largeman-Roth growing plants use fewer natural resources and produce less CO3 emission than growing animals, which means that placing more focus on plant foods can help navigate a growing population and changes to the climate.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the planetary diet is finding ways to provide it to underserved communities, countries, and food deserts. While there are many people and organizations working diligently to provide healthy food to the tables of urban communities that have little to no access to these types of foods, there is much more work needed to be done in order to make this type of diet actually a viable option for everyone.
"We need much more effort in ensuring that a diversity of fresh foods are more available and affordable to all — and we need to nudge food companies and food services to increase rather dramatically healthy and tasty options of processed and packaged foods," said DeClerck.
Much like the popular Mediterranean diet and other plant-based diets, this diet can help to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease, and certain types of cancer. The planetary diet will automatically provide more fiber and phytonutrients, magnesium, potassium, iron, and folate which can help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that can promote cell damage and may promote a sharper mind with fewer cognitive problems over time.
"Many of us in high-income countries simply are eating too much, 3,500 calories per day compared to the 2,000 to 2,500 recommended," DeClerck says adding, "That’s not good for us, and it means that in an increasingly resource limited world, we are wasting land, air, and water that is in short supply."
“It's about putting less carbon in the atmosphere, and leaving more land available to nature to do what nature does best: regulate climate, produce clean water and produce a huge diversity of goods and benefits," DeClerck comments.
According to this international research team, a healthy environment is defined as being one with stable climates, good water quality, land for biodiversity, and water in the rivers. But going by the current rates of overconsumption and production of meats, it is most likely that we will be able to continue to feed the growing population in the future, which their report predicts increasing by another 2 billion in 30 years.
"Some foods, meats in particular, require more land, energy and often water to produce. When meat is over-consumed, as it often is in developed countries, our take, or portion of land, and water used for food increases at the expense of other critical planetary boundaries," DeClerck concludes. "There is good evidence now that if we fail to transition to healthy diets, that we are also likely to fail in stabilizing climate, or achieving the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement."
“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City University of London, who was one of the commission members.
“We really need to shift towards producing healthy foods not only for humans but for the planet, also,” said Jessica Fanzo, a bioethicist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, another commission member.
“We need a new type of food production.” This includes strong management of the world’s fisheries and government policies that switch agricultural production away from livestock and grains and more towards produce.“We need massive cooperation to really address the situation that we are in currently,” she said
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Materials provided by:
Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement