The ‘planetary health diet’ has hit the headlinesthis month. This is mainly been sparked by the commission released by EAT-Lancet recently. Let’s look into what it is all about. 

Why?

The world today faces a challenge of sustaining a rapidly increasing population under the restraints of climate change and declining resources. The number of people living on our planet is increasing exponentially and is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. This will obviously lead to a huge rise in demand for food, and current trajectoriessuggest that this demand will not be met. In fact, it is predicted that global food production will decline if we continue the way we are going. Climate change is a major cause of this, and as food production is one of the largest drivers of climate change, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle. 

Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissionsand 70% freshwater use.We have already fully fished around 60% of the world’s fish stocks, and many land species are threatened by extinction due to their habitats being destroyed for agricultural use. The infographic below highlights the foods which contribute most to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Red meat makes the largest contribution, while fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses have a considerably smaller impact. 

The current diet of the UK relies heavily on animal products and processed foods. Diets tend to shift towards this ‘western’ pattern when a nation experiences rapid urbanization. Consumption of animal produce and high fat, sugar and salt foods increases, while fruit and vegetable consumption decreases. There is also an increase in imported foods, and less local produce is consumed. This shift is associated with an increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all of which are becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK.

What?

“To address this critical need, the EAT-Lancet Commission convened 37 leading scientists from 16 countries in various disciplines including human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability to develop global scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.”

The planetary health diet suggests a potential solution to improve health of populations while also being environmentally sustainable and protecting the planet. Above is a summary of what the planetary health diet looks like. It is described in the reportas “a flexitarian diet, which is largely plant-based but can optionally include modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy foods.” The plate consists of around half fruit and vegetables, and the other half is made up of mainly plant based proteins, wholegrains, unsaturated fats and small amounts of animal produce. Importantly, the planetary health diet is not a vegan or vegetarian diet, it just recommends that we focus on replacing someof the meat and dairy in our diets with plant-based sources of protein. 

The British Dietetic Association has also launched a campaign to promote a sustainable diet, this is called One Blue Dot. Some of the main ways in which they suggest you can eat more sustainably include:

  • Reducing red meat intake, and limiting processed meat consumption if at all
  • Prioritise beans, lentils, soya, mycoprotein, nuts and seeds as sources of protein
  • Eat fish which is sustainably sourced
  • Dairy consumption should be moderate, plant-based versions which are fortified with calcium are a good alternative
  • Starchy foods should be wholegrain e.g. pasta, rice and bread 
  • Increase consumption of seasonal, locally sources fruit and vegetables 
  • Limit food waste as much as possible, and ensure unavoidable food waste is recycled 

Hints and tips to change your diet for your own health and the health of our planet:

  • You may have heard plant-based protein sources such as beans and nuts described as ‘incomplete’. This can be misleading, as although individually these food sources do not contain every essential amino acid, as long as you eat a varietyof them you can ensure you are getting everything you need
  • In terms of plant based dairy products such as milk, the best ones to go for are those fortified with calcium, as dairy is usually our main source of calcium. Some of these products are now fortified with vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine too, which is great!
  • One way in which you can easily increase your fruit and vegetable intake, as well as reducing waste, is by buying frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables. These still contain all the vitamins, minerals and fibre but do not perish like the fresh produce.
  • The Good Fish Guideis a great resource which allows you to look up the most sustainable fish.
  • If you don’t feel up to eating a fully vegetarian meal, swapping half of the meat out for beans/pulses can be a great way of reducing your intake (e.g. Bolognese).

Hannah is a Final Year Nutrition student at the University of Nottingham, who aspires to go on a study a Masters in Dietetics. Her interests include nutrition education and maternal and child health. Follow her on Twitter at @hlj_jones