A new diet could prevent millions of early deaths and promote sustainable food production that can feed the world’s rapidly growing population, according to the international team of scientists that developed the plan.
Called the “planetary health diet,” it encourages dramatically lower consumption of red meat and sugar, with greatly increased intake of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes like beans and lentils, according to CNN.
It’s the first science-based diet created to both address global food production problems, and individual health and nutrition. The scientists say the diet would save at least 11 million people worldwide from premature deaths resulting from unhealthy diets, while also reducing global food production’s harm to the planet through environmental degradation, climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
The report describing the diet was published in the medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday, by an international commission including 37 experts on subjects ranging from agriculture to nutrition to climate change.
The diet calls for the global population to cut its red meat and sugar consumption in half, while doubling intake of fruits, nuts, pulses, and vegetables. For North Americans, however, this requires cutting red meat intake by 84 percent, and a 77 percent cut for Europeans.
Bad diet habits are the world’s top cause of poor health. According to The Lancet’s editor in chief, Dr. Richard Horton, one billion people are undernourished and two billion consume too much unhealthy food, yet “nutrition has still failed to get the kind of political attention that is given to diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria.”
Industrial food production is destroying the world’s forests. Livestock, especially cattle, account for between 14.5 and 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Widespread adoption of the diet would limit these effects, as well as worldwide cases of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
A 2,500 calorie diet would include 14 grams of red meat, and only 31 grams of added sugars, 51.8 grams of added fats, and 50 grams of starchy vegetables. Much of the world consumes far too much of these foods, though this varies greatly from region to region.
The diet would instead include 195 grams of poultry, eggs, seafood, and plant protein, 200 grams of fruit, 232 grams of whole grains, 150 grams of dairy, and 300 grams of vegetables.
To achieve this diet would involve radical changes for much of the world – not only on an individual level, but also in industry and policy. Current food production doesn’t provide for widespread adoption of the planetary health diet. To make such a transition more feasible, the report suggests five strategies for governments to put in place.
First, they encourage better governance of land and ocean ecosystems including subsidies to replace harmful practices like industrial meat production and fisheries with sustainable food production. Second, they say governments should provide incentives for farmers to diversify crops. Third, they call for information campaigns and social programs to encourage and facilitate healthier diets among low-income populations.
Fourth, they call for intensive agriculture to consider local conditions in order to produce the best crops, as sustainably as possible. Lastly, to reduce food waste, they suggest better harvest planning and market access in low- and middle-income countries, along with better shopping habits in high-income nations.