The word ‘diet’ may conjure up fears of rumbling tummies and hangry encounters but throw in a promise to help the planet and live longer without a cabbage soup in sight and we’re listening.
Enter, the planetary diet, a nutrient-dense eating plan developed by scientists and health experts following an international commission for new guidelines to support our growing population. Unlike most restrictive diets, you can still eat meat, dairy and carbs (yes, really!) but there’s a strong focus on prioritising the plant-based options (obvs) and doubling our nut, fruit and veg intake.
In the new report in the Lancet medical journal commissioned by the Eat Forum NGO, experts discovered that by cutting back on meat and dairy and introducing more wholegrain foods, the planetary diet can reduce diet-related diseases such as cancer and strokes, plus decrease the levels of greenhouse gases produced by mass farming. Win-win!
With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, “humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden and author of the report told The Guardian.
What it the planetary diet?
While a bite of an oatcake and half a grapefruit may constitute a meal by diet standards, the planetary diet condenses the world’s healthiest habits into one manageable meal plan. The report revealed that Europeans in particular need to eat 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds to meet the guidelines. Doable? We think so.
“You can take those foods and put them together in thousands of different ways. We’re not talking about a deprivation diet here, it is healthy eating that is flexible and enjoyable.” Professor Walter Willet, one of the researchers who contributed to the study told the BBC.
With 2,500 calories to play with, a typical planetary week would look like the following:
• 14g a day of red meat (the equivalent of a single burger)
• 29g a day of chicken
• 28g of fish a day
•50g a day of nuts
•75g a day of legumes
Fruit and vegetables
Each plate of food should be made up of at least half fruit and veg such as:
• 300g a day of vegetables (courgette, green beans, kale, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and peppers
• 200g a day of fruit (berries, apples, pears and bananas)
• 50g a day of starchy vegetables (potatoes) to be kept to a minimum
Guidelines advise that you should eat a similar amount to the quantity of fruit and veg on your plate
• 232g a day of whole grains (brown bread, rice and pasta)
Like meat and starchy veg, dairy should be limited to:
• 1.5 eggs
• 250g dairy (one glass of milk a week) to be kept to a minimum
Plus, you can have:
• 31g a day of sugar
• 50g a day of oils (like olive oil)
What are the benefits?
According to the EAT-Lancet report, adopting the planetary diet could prevent a whopping 11 million deaths every year and provide more food for those going without. But saving the planet and helping world hunger aside, the planetary diet can also provide some fantastic individual health benefits.
“Eating a diet crammed with a wide variety of plants can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and the decline of brain function,” says naturopath Louise Westra.
“The number of people experiencing diabetes is set to tip 600 million worldwide within the next 25 years, but eating a diet high in plants with the accompanying phytonutrients may help blood sugar levels in those who have already developed the disease as well as for those who are at risk.”
How the diet helps the planet
Farm-fresh produce may be the go-to for healthistas, but farming is also responsible for a quarter of global warming emissions with livestock reportedly contributing to 18% of greenhouse gases. Therefore reducing our meat intake can substantially reduce our carbon footprint.
“Unfortunately producing enough animal food to feed the billions of people now living on the planet is hugely detrimental to our environment,” Louise explains. “Eating more plants will mean less meat consumption and thus benefit our body and our planet.”
So, according to the Planetary Health Diet guidelines, swapping your sirloin for soy beans could save water supplies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stop unnecessary farmland expansion, feed significantly more people and improve your general health and wellbeing. It’s a no-brainer!