Published: Sat, January 19, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

'Planetary health diet' could avert premature deaths and safeguard the Earth

'Planetary health diet' could avert premature deaths and safeguard the Earth

"We've also seen in the U.S. that red meat consumption has come down 40% since it peaked in 1970, which is a big change".

It describes a universal healthy reference diet, based on an increase in consumption of healthy foods (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts), and a decrease in consumption of unhealthy foods (such as red meat, sugar and refined grains) that would provide major health benefits, and also increase the likelihood of attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The commission's report comes as the New England Journal of Medicine published a "grim analysis" on Thursday which warns that the World Health Organization's conclusion from just five years ago that rising global temperatures over the next few decades will kill 250,000 people per year is a "conservative estimate". Consumption of nuts, fruits, legumes and vegetables will need to increase more than twofold.

U.S. colleague and co-lead commissioner Dr Walter Willett, from Harvard University, said: "The world's diets must change dramatically".

The solution, based on three years of modelling studies, is a diet consisting of around 35% of calories obtained from whole grains and tubers, and protein mostly derived from plants.

"The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change", he said. 'Lack of agricultural understanding " But the Sustainable Food Trust, a United Kingdom charity advocating sustainable farming, has criticised the report due to its "fundamental lack of agricultural understanding". For instance, in prioritising reductions in beef and lamb consumption over poultry consumption, the resulting environmental and health outcomes will both be negative, the Trust says.

Professor Johan Rockstrom, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany - who co-led the Commission, said a sustainable system that could deliver healthy diets for a growing and wealthier world population required "nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution". "In addition, grass and grazing animals need to be reintroduced into many all-arable crop rotations to address the serious problems of soil degradation and biodiversity loss". "And if we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet's resources will be restored".

"It's not a blanket approach, but when you look at the data there are certain individuals or populations that don't need that much red meat for their own health", said Jessica Fanzo, a professor of food policy at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the report.

Even eggs and fish would be drastically cut back, with only an ounce of fish per day or an egg and a half per week allowed under the guidelines.

The report says global targets will need to be applied locally, For instance, residents of countries in North America eat nearly 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while residents of South Asian countries, like India, eat only half the recommended amount.

"About 11 million premature deaths per year could be avoided if everyone adopted this healthy diet", Willett said.

Especially if we have to feed 10 billion people by 2050.

A "planetary health diet" requiring a massive shift from meat to vegetable consumption is needed to protect the well-being of future generations and the planet, according to experts.

Planning "Meatless Monday" meals that emphasize plant-based protein sources.

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