PLANETARY HEALTH DIET: summary

Here is this dietitian’s summary and thoughts on the planetary health diet with some tips to follow for inquiring minds. Original article: Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems (Walter Willett et al.), 2019.

Read the article for yourself here: https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/

According to the EAT-Lancet Commission findings, simply put, unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill health worldwide. 820 million people are currently hungry. 150 million kids are hungry chronically (affecting their developing & growing little bodies) while 50 million kids are acutely hungry as a result of not enough access to food. 2 billion people are malnourished.

On the other hand, another 2 billion people overweight or obese. Diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers are strongly diet-related and are some of the leading causes of death around the world.

Translation? Half the world is either under- or over-nourished. Neither is ideal for optimal health.

If we are to feed the projected 10 billion people in 2050, something has got to give. Food systems need to support the growing population and our diet trends need to follow suit.

“Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth,” states the report. We must radically change our diet to primarily plant-based, which the report deems the “planetary health diet.”

As defined by EAT-Lancet, planetary health refers to “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends.” In plain English, the planetary health diet is proposed to be healthiest for us and good ole Mother Earth!

Could such a diet exist? A diet that is healthiest for our own species while being considerate of all others? That could halt climate change and be designed for a system to feed us all?

The commissioners seem to believe so. The diet is primarily plant-based and similar to what research has been pointing toward to be healthiest for decades.

The planetary health diet is similar to the now ever-popular Mediterranean diet with less fish/meat and more plant proteins. The plate which represents the diet is similar to MyPlate in the USA and even more so to Canada’s Eat Well Plate. The diet consists of half your plate fruit & veggies, and the other half whole grains, plant proteins like beans and peas, nuts and seeds, unsaturated oils (from plants), a touch of meat/fish/dairy, some starchy vegetables, and (interestingly) some added sugars.

The planetary diet as proposed on average actually does pretty well from a nutrition standpoint according to my analysis thus far. The calorie load varies, but the diet was created with an upper range of 2,500 calories per day. There are ranges offered for all food groups, where animal products like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods could be excluded altogether.

The diet is fit for vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, flexitarians, omnivores, and everything in between. If animal products are to be excluded, plant proteins will need to be increased and thus the ranges suggested by the Commission will be exceeded in other food groups like legumes, tree nuts, and likely whole grains and vegetables to make up for the loss of calories and protein that would normally be obtained from animal products designated by the suggested reference diet.

Some foods can be left off your plate considering allergies, sensitivities, personal preferences, access and/or availability of food. Many have critiqued the diet for including added sugars, but the simple truth is that they are in SO MANY foods that we wouldn’t even expect (bread, yogurt, crackers, “juices”, pasta sauce, etc.). Also, you will likely never catch me on a day where I don’t eat my full range of added sugars – sugar is my spirit animal!

Some foods can be left off your plate considering allergies, sensitivities, personal preferences, access and/or availability of food. Many have critiqued the diet for including added sugars, but the simple truth is that they are in SO MANY foods that we wouldn’t even expect (bread, yogurt, crackers, “juices”, pasta sauce, etc.). Also, you will likely never catch me on a day where I don’t eat my full range of added sugars – sugar is my spirit animal!

From the report, “transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts, including a greater than 50% reduction in global consumption of unhealthy foods, such as red meat and sugar, and a greater than 100% increase in consumption of healthy foods, such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.”

Since 2050 is the expected year we will reach ~10 billion people on Earth, the goal is for a large part of the world’s population to shift to the planetary health diet by that time. It’s a pretty ambitious goal to say the least, but any changes we can make toward the diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet commission is bound to make a positive impact for our health & the planet.

Ideally for health of the people and the planet, red meat and sugar consumption should be halved, while fruit, veggie, beans, & nuts consumption should double.

Start small! Eat less red meat if you can. Eat less poultry & fish if you can, less cheese or dairy. Replace your meat with tofu, lentils, or green peas. Replace your dairy with fortified soy/other plant milk and dark leafy greens.

For snacks, have fruit & nuts – things like apple & peanut butter or grapes & almonds.

Remember “it is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact,” states the report. I preach this SO MUCH on my platforms and with clients! The report knows what’s up. 😊

Written by Stacy Ramirez, MS, RDN, LD

PHOTOS COURTESY OF WWW.PIXABAY.COM

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