Besides what you eat, many dietitians focus on WHY you make certain food choices. Your diet may be dictated by budget, accessibility, health, time constraints or how your individual food choices affect the planet.
There’s not one right diet that works for everyone. But the buzz about eating less meat and more plant-based foods is getting lots of traction, since it ticks many of these boxes – it’s affordable, nutritious, environmentally sustainable, and is the recommended eating style for preventing many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.
That’s why the new Planetary Health Diet comes at a perfect time. Created by a team of more than 30 world-leading scientists on a committee called the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, this plan represents a scientific consensus for a diet that’s nutritious and sustainable, since it is rich in plant-based foods and has fewer foods from animal sources.
What does this eating plan look like? It’s largely plant-based and emphasizes vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans, but can optionally include modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy foods too. It’s very similar to the pattern suggested by the early drafts of the new Canada’s Food Guide, which emphasizes more plant-based foods, while choosing to eat less meat, dairy, sugar and ultra-processed food.
You’ll see that meat, dairy and sugar aren’t gone, they are just minimized. And plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit and beans are emphasized. Here’s why: Livestock farming is harsh on the planet. It drives climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, and uses lots of fresh water. Farming vegetables, grains and beans is gentler on the planet.
On a weekly basis, the Planetary Health Diet looks something like this:
- • Whole grains
- • Vegetables and fruit, with the exception of starchy vegetables like potatoes
- • Legumes, such as beans and lentils
- • Nuts
- • Added unsaturated fats (such as olive oil)
- • Fish twice a week
- • One serving of milk, cheese or yogurt daily
- • Poultry a few times a week
- • Two eggs per week
- • Meat once a week
- • Added sugars – because they contribute calories without any beneficial nutrients. They recommend no more than 120 calories from sugar a day, which is about 8 teaspoons of added sugar (fruit is NOT considered added sugar)
- • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, because they have more calories than other vegetables
Since most of the protein on this eating plan comes from plant-based sources such as beans, it goes against those following keto, paleo or low-carb diets. But as I said earlier, there’s no one right diet for everyone.
Haven’t we seen this recommendation before?
The push towards plant-based diets isn’t new. The difference really lies in the grandiose scope of the goal, which is “to achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050.” Yup – this isn’t about your individual diet, your community or even your province. It’s looking to make real change on a global scale, since we all share the same planet. And these researchers agree – the planet is in trouble.
The report states that “global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience. It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries.”
The term “Planetary Health Diet” was put forward by the researchers to remind us that we need to focus on our own personal health, but also consider the health of our planet and natural systems at the same time.
Of course, meat marketing boards pushed back immediately, saying the plan “has little impact on the environment and is potentially damaging to people’s health.” Yup, we love our meat. And that’s likely one of the reasons why the EAT-Lancet committee has 2050 outlined as a goal date for people to adhere to this new eating plan, because for many it’s a hard shift to make.Want To Eat Less Meat? These Are The Most Filling Plant Proteins
The report notes that for this goal to be reached, global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 percent.
Not everyone will be on board on an individual level, so the EAT-Lancet committee is seeking commitment from national and international bodies to make sweeping changes to food production, distribution, and marketing; as well as to make healthy foods more available, accessible and affordable in place of unhealthier alternatives.
The committee scientists really see this diet as a win for our personal health, and the good of the planet and our future. But they are realistic. They acknowledge that the scope is huge in the report: “Humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned. Achieving this goal will require rapid adoption of numerous changes and unprecedented global collaboration and commitment: nothing less than a Great Food Transformation.”
You can do your part by going meatless more often, and trying to get more vegetables, whole grains and beans into your diet.
Cara Rosenbloom is a Toronto-based dietitian, writer, recipe developer and food trends expert at www.WordsToEatBy.ca.