The planetary health diet is a global reference diet for adults, researched by the EAT Lancet commission, that is symbolically represented by half a plate of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The other half consists of primarily whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, ( see not totally vegan) and some added sugars and starchy vegetables. The diet is quite flexible and allows for adaptation to dietary needs, personal preferences and cultural traditions. Vegetarian and vegan diets are two healthy options within the planet health diet but are personal choices.
Today, food is a defining challenge of humanity by contributing to both poor health outcomes and severe environmental degradation. Increasing food demand and the adoption of unhealthy diets including persistent hunger, generalized overconsumption as well as overconsumption of unhealthy foods lead to incredible strains on public health and has severe consequences on natural resources and the environment. As it stands, the global food system cannot meet the nutritional demands of a growing world population projected to increase to 10 billion by 2050 without irreversibly damaging the planet.
To change this, the planetary health diet sets out scientific targets for healthy diets that will optimize human health. Adopting the guidelines can result in a reduction in undernutrition, overnutrition and diet-related noncommunicable diseases, which are continuously on the rise globally. Global uptake of the planetary health diet, however, can reduce approximately 11 million premature adult deaths annually, effectively contributing to a 19-23% overall reduction in premature mortalities per year.
In addition, the report also identifies environmental limits for sustainable food systems that define a safe operating space for food production within planetary boundaries. The targets emphasize those environmental processes most impacted by food including climate change, freshwater use, contamination of water by nitrogen and phosphorus, and the loss of biodiversity. It also recognizes the significant land that has been appropriated for food production and the contribution that natural ecosystems make to climate regulation, provisioning of freshwater and the conservation of biodiversity.
The planetary health diet is flexible by providing guidelines to ranges of different food groups that together constitute an optimal diet for human health and environmental sustainability. It emphasizes a plant-forward diet where whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes comprise a greater proportion of foods consumed. Meat and dairy constitute important parts of the diet but in significantly smaller proportions than whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
In addition to the targets set within each section, the dietary targets also suggest that the average adult requires 2500 kcal per day. While this amount will vary based on age, gender, activity levels and health profiles, overconsumption is a waste of food with both health and environmental costs.
The EAT-Lancet Commission’s scientific targets for healthy diets allow for individuals to prepare and consume meals in the total amount, composition and proportions that fit within the ranges of different food groups. The dietary pattern allows for flexible application of these criteria with room to tailor foods and amounts to the different preferences and contexts to reduce the risk of poor diets and environmental degradation.
2020 is the year humanity needs to bend the CO2 curve. Making the Lancet recommendations part of corporate policy on gifts, hospitality and representation is an easy step. Lets all get on the diet, eat healthy, protect the planet while increasing our own health, its a win, win, win folks!