The diet that helps you save the planet

By Rhiannon Lambert,
updated on Jan 12, 2024

The diet that helps you save the planet

With all the news about climate change, deforestation, and growing demands on our food resources as populations expand, saving the planet is something we should all consider on our plates...

What a wonderful world,” sang Louis Armstrong, but fast-forward little more than 50 years and that world needs some care and attention. With billions of people around the globe either malnourished, or eating unhealthily, along with the damage humans have inflicted on our environment, a change is overdue.

At the start of 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brought together leading scientists from across the world to define a diet that would be both healthy and sustainable – addressing both the human needs, and that of our Earth – called the planetary diet.

What is the planetary diet?

The key purpose behind creating this diet is to save lives, feed 10 billion people, and all without causing catastrophic damage to the planet.

Developed by 37 of the world's top scientists at EAT-Lancet, the planetary diet acknowledges the changes we can make in our meals to support sustainability, while still getting the nutrients we need. You might be thinking that this diet would consist of turning vegan immediately – with the impact on the climate often being a factor in people deciding to go vegan. So you may be surprised to learn that it does not completely banish meat and dairy.

Why is it needed?

Today, food production is having a significant impact on our planet. Food and agriculture account for 30% of global greenhouse gases, and in the words of The Lancet: “Global food production is the single largest driver of environmental degradation, climate instability, and the transgression of planetary boundaries.” It plays a role in issues such as deforestation, soil degradation and more. It’s clear that action is imperative, and adopting a diet that is more sustainable than the one at present could have a significant impact on our world.

Meanwhile, the world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. At the same time, the health of the population is increasingly under pressure from several different forms of malnutrition.

Therefore, food production must increase to meet the needs of a larger population while being nutritionally sound. These two conflicting ideas mean taking care of our planet, while meeting the demands of the human population, presents a significant challenge.

Where does nutrition fit into all of this?

From a nutritional perspective, it is crucial that a diet promoting sustainability for such a large population also meets their health needs. Our bodies cannot function to an optimal level without adequate nutrients, in the form of macro and micronutrients.

This is something that the planetary diet claims to take into account. EAT-Lancet suggests that the diet will prevent about 11 million people dying each year, by cutting some of the most fatal diseases which can sometimes be caused by unhealthy diets, such as heart attacks, strokes, and cancers.

What does the planetary diet consist of?

This is a really important question, and one we need to be aware of to ensure we do not become deficient in any vitamins or minerals, which would majorly affect our health.

The main premise is an increase in fruit and vegetable intake, and a decrease in meat and dairy. More specifically:

• For red meat fans, you’re looking at a burger a week, or a large steak a month.
• A couple of portions of chicken a week, and a couple of portions of fish a week. Plants are where the rest of your protein will need to come from, with nuts and a good helping of legumes being consumed every day.
• A significant increase in fruit and veg, which should make up half of every plate we eat.

Essentially the diet is depicted as half a plate of vegetables, fruits and nuts, with the other half comprised of whole grains, plant proteins (in the form of beans, lentils and pulses), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables.

This planetary diet is not about deprivation; instead it is all things in moderation, and a focus on healthy, plant-based eating. For those thinking that going 100% vegan or veggie is the way forward, EAT-Lancet notes that if it were just about “minimising greenhouse gases, we’d say everyone should be vegan”, yet “it was unclear whether a vegan diet was the healthiest option”.

So, what are the key takeaways?

Whether you want to ease yourself in to committing to the diet as a full lifestyle change, or just want make some small changes to get yourself started, begin by trying to:

• Reduce red and processed meat intake, while increasing plant-based proteins, such as beans and soya.
• Enjoy varied and sustainable fish sources.
• Consume dairy as a source of calcium, iodine, vitamin D and vitamin B12, as opposed to protein (thus naturally reducing intake). You can also opt for fortified plant-based milks.
• Find seasonal and local fruit and veg, and increase its overall consumption. Something local but not in season can still be environmentally taxing, so knowing what’s in season is important!
• Increase whole grain carb intake – this ups fibre consumption and lowers your carbon footprint.

What is Rhiannon’s view?

My philosophy around food is that we must find something that works for us. Our bodies really are as unique as our personalities, so each of us should strive to find a way of eating that works for us individually. I believe in empowering everyone to embrace a healthy way of living through the food we enjoy, and the life we lead.

We must make changes for the sake of our planet, and we could all benefit from some of the changes proposed in the planetary diet. But, my role as a nutritionist is to ensure that people are able to make informed, gradual changes to their diets, in a way that works for them. I would never encourage somebody to change their food consumption because they feel pressured to do so.

Our diets should be about what we can add in, as opposed to what we take out.

Check out Rhiannon’s eBook, ‘A Simple Way To Eat Plant-Based’. Use the code RHITRITION20 for 20% off when you visit, or follow Rhiannon on social @Rhitrition for daily, free nutritional information and inspiration.

By Rhiannon Lambert

Rhiannon is a registered nutritionist, author, and founder of leading Harley Street clinic Rhitrition.

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