“The planetary health diet”: a call to shift focus from red to green

By Afton Halloran, Head of Nominations, Food Planet Prize 2021-05-18 2 minutes read

There are nearly 8 billion humans on Earth. Scientists predict that the population will continue to grow by about 70 million per year and reach nearly 10 billion by 2050. 10 billion humans that need food.

Theoretically, the Earth is capable of nourishing 10 billion people, just not how we do it today. If we continue to put even more pressure on the planetary boundaries, our ecosystems will collapse and we may face a future without food.

We find ourselves in a paradoxical situation. We must feed this growing population, yet our current food system cripples our ability to do so as it continues to threaten the very environment that supports food production. The food sector is largely responsible for driving the environment beyond planetary boundaries – the safe operating space we should stay within to avert large-scale and abrupt environmental degradation.

How do we feed 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? Thirty-seven world-leading scientists, members of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, asked this very question. Their inquiry generated a complete scientific review – the first of its kind – detailing the components of a healthy diet from a sustainable food system. It also defines actions that can support and speed up food system transformation.

To improve human health and avoid potentially catastrophic damage to the planet, we must radically change our diets and food production and reduce food waste, concluded the EAT-Lancet Commission’s 37 scientists. They posit that the lack of science-based targets for a healthy diet has hindered efforts to transform the food system. To that end, their review proposes a reference diet that meets nutritional requirements, promotes health, and allows food production to stay within planetary boundaries.

The “planetary health diet” is a global reference diet for adults, symbolically represented by a plate, half of it filled with fruits, vegetables, and nuts, the other with primarily whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables. The diet offers vegetarian and vegan options and is deliberately flexible, accounting for dietary needs, personal preferences, and cultural traditions.

Key messages from the EAT-Lancet Commission report include:

  • Global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar should decrease by more than 50%, while consumption of foods like nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes should double.
  • Food waste must be reduced by at least half. In low- and middle-income countries, most waste occurs during production, whereas in high-income countries, it is primarily caused by consumers.
  • Achieving these changes – including the most pressing, like the diversification of agriculture and the implementation of better governance over land and ocean use – will require unprecedented levels of international cooperation and commitment.

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