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Nutrition

This claims to be one of the healthiest diets (and it saves the planet)

February 8th 2019 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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It aims to improve our wellbeing as well as the environment and involves doubling our plant and pulse intake while halving the amount of meat and sugar we eat. We break down the planetary health diet

Fad diets come and go, but dubbing a diet “the planetary health diet” certainly implies that it didn’t come to play - it’s got ambitious aims in terms of cutting disease and reducing human impact on the environment and it’s been in the works for two years. Spearheaded by a group of 37 scientists making up the EAT-Lancet commission, the outlines of the planetary health diet were published in The Lancet January, and while it adheres roughly to the principles of a flexitarian diet, it’s a bit more prescriptive in terms of what you’ll need to add and subtract from your diet to make a real difference to both minimising the food sector’s negative effects on the environment and lessening your risk of diet related disease. Here’s what’s on your planetary health diet plate.

A 77% reduction in red meat

Globally the commission’s authors advised that our red meat consumption should be slashed in half, but in Europe, we consume above average quantities so the reduction seems especially stark. The scientist leading the commission, Harvard Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition Walter Willett, commented that this amount of red meat “is very much in line with traditional diets”. What it means in real terms is keeping daily red meat intake at 14g max. For reference, that's the same amount as the slice of cheese you’d get in a McDonald’s cheeseburger. The burger itself would fulfil you entire week’s red meat quota.

Less meat and fish overall

The scientists calculated that 28g of fish a day and 29g of chicken a day were your limits. For perspective, that’s a CD of chicken and half a tennis ball of fish. Okay this is getting silly but you get the idea - it’s probably less than you’d currently eat, unless you’re vegan or vegetarian of course. Vegans in particular might find the planetary health diet easy to adopt, but the plan’s authors include meat, fish and eggs as it’s yet to be proven that a vegan diet is the healthiest option.

Fewer eggs

An egg and a bit a week. Time to cancel brunch?

A glass of milk a day, max

You’re limited to 250g a day of dairy products, as the scientists highlight that the dairy and meat industries are the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Double the amount of fruit and vegetables we’re currently eating

The report details that roughly half of each plate of food needs to be made up of fruit and vegetables, although starchy vegetables such as potatoes don’t count here. As opposed to the widely accepted ‘5 a day’ serving suggestion, the planetary health diet prescribes around 300g of vegetables and 200g fruit a day.

Pulses as protein

Willett et al recommend turning to plants over meat for the bulk of your protein needs. That means that legumes and nuts are firmly on the menu, with 50g of nuts a day and 75g of pulses and legumes. That’s a lot of hummus, and you can dip a (wholegrain) pitta bread in too…

Carbs stay pretty much consistent

The scientists propose a somewhat random measurement of 232g of wholegrain carbohydrates per day, which isn’t far off the current dietary recommendation for men of “at least 260g”. You can also figure in 50g of starchy vegetables on top of this.

A sugar cull

Public Health England reported last year that UK adults are consuming on average three times the recommended daily sugar intake of 30g, and while the planetary health diet puts the cap at 31g a day, the commissioners acknowledge that most countries in the world need to dramatically reduce their sugar consumption in real terms to prevent widespread ill health.

Healthy oils

In line with the principles of the Mediterranean diet, which was referred to as “one the healthiest diets to exist” by commission member Marco Springmann of Oxford University, the planetary health diet advocates around 50g of oil per day, which is just over three and a half tablespoons. All the better to make hummus with.

Planetary health diet pros and cons

The scientists behind the planetary health diet estimate that the eating plan provides a sustainable solution that will not only help to feed the world’s projected population of ten billion people by 2050 but also prevent 11 million deaths caused by unhealthy diets each year. What’s more, they believe that alongside cutting food waste, it could dramatically suppress everything from air pollution to species extinction and greenhouse gas emissions. In short, it looks like a win-win, but while the eco argument seems pretty solid, some nutritional experts have bones to pick.

Obesity researcher Dr Zoe Harcombe PhD highlights that the planetary health diet guidelines are only modelled around the average man’s dietary intake and a daily recommended calorie limit of 2500 calories, so women would have to do some faffy calculations to make their food fit. Zoe also states that the diet is “deficient in vitamins B12 and vitamin D”, as the best sources of these nutrients come from animal products rather than plants while she estimates that it “provides just 55% of calcium recommended” and “just 6% of iron intake” owing to the fact that the majority of iron present in the planetary health diet is non-heme iron, which is less bioavailable and therefore less useful to the body than heme iron from meat and fish.

It seems that the “perfect” diet to suit the entire planet is yet to be invented, and that the blueprint for precisely what we should eat for optimum health is still in the balance, but taking sensible steps to eat well and cut back on the factors that harm both our health and our environment can only be a good thing. The planetary health diet will now be presented to politicians in over 40 cities around the world, so only time will tell if it gains real ground and contributes to a change in our habits, but it’s food for thought for all of us.

What a flexitarian diet looks like

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