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The Gap Year Blog

EAT-Lancet Commission Report: The Healthy Diet to Save the Planet

18 Jan 2019 16:50 PM
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Photo Credit: Flickr

Edited with Permission by Frontier

A report by the EAT-Lancet Commission has issued a set of global messages calling for a change to healthier diets including much more fresh produce and a lack of red meat to keep a sustainable planet. 

Where the world population is estimated to hit over 10 billion by 2050, the food we eat has become a predominant factor in environmental impacts of human activity. Titled Food in the Anthropocene, organization EAT and the journal Lancet has released a report in hope to keep the climate change under wraps and suggesting a new diet for humans to follow. 

With a collaboration of over 2 years between 37 experts over 16 countries, the report has been compiled with industries from health, nutrition, food systems and even political governance in hope to change our unhealthy food habits. The so-called “planetary health diet” puts both lifestyle and environmental factors against the world’s current diet. So snap out of that junk food, fresh produce is going to save us.

Photo Credit: Flickr

But why do we need a new diet?

The overall outcome of this report is not to throw society’s chow out the window but to begin a process of environmental and human health between the food industry, consumers and nature. 

In the opening statement of Food in the Anthropocene it exerts the relationship between food and humans: “food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both.”

The process of growing and manufacturing food is one of the predominant factors of environmental change within the natural world from climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater use and even interference with nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

Tamara Lucas states in The 21st-Century Great Food Transformation (commentary alongside the commission) that the civilisation we live in today is in a “crisis” due to our unhealthy diet and unbalanced planetary resources. The dominating diets we have lived with the past 50 years are “no longer nutritionally optimal”, speaking about the impacts on climate change and destruction of our earth’s biodiversity. 

So, as much as it’s clear that unhealthy eating has made unhealthy environment, what we’ve been eating has been causing premature deaths too. Lucas reports that up to 11 million premature deaths per year have been caused by unhealthy diets and estimates that this can be reduced by 19-23% with the new Great Food Transformation.

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So, what does it say we need to do?

In hope of this 21st century food transformation, by merging a healthier diet consisting of plant-based produce and saturated fats like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and limiting animal sourced food (primarily red meat), refined grains, processed foods, and added sugars. With an awareness of our food intake on industries we should be able to lessen our environmental impact.

With the lingering of veganism on the rise, it’s no surprise the diet recommends reducing your meat intake – specifically - red meat by at least 50%. That reduces your options to one red meat meal a month. 

The commission places a large concern on red meat and dairy. If our consumption of these products were to increase even slightly, the scientific goals to reduce our environmental footprint will be “difficult or even impossible to achieve”.  

With a lack of animal produce, you’ll need to be stocking up the veggies to make up for it. Forget your five-a-day rules because the commission proposes that vegetable produce should take up half of every plate, we eat to hit the goal of increasing legumes by 100%.

Where dairy is a no-go, sugar is too (so, you can forget about any delicious desserts you had on your mind). But where some restrictions like one-and-a-half eggs a week are in place, the diet generally works around those free-from diets like gluten-free, vegans, vegetarians and lactose intolerance due to its focus on fresh produce.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Is it all down to our diet?

As much as we much want to believe, not everyone is going to switch to this new ground-breaking diet overnight. Even if we all did, the push for environmental changes needs to be more predominant in political, economic and popular culture. 

As the report states, if we want this to work it would have to include an “adoption of scientific targets by all sectors […] and at all scales”. In short, if we all want to be on board, the big organisations and wealthier individuals need to change their priorities too. Policy makers and industry influencers need to adapt to the diet in business, where an urgency is needed with “commercial and political interests having far too much influence”.

It’s clear that there’s a problem with our diet where around 1 billion people are hungry, but in the wealthier world around 2 billion people are eating unsustainably. So, could you give up red meat, sugar and eggs to save the planet?

By Caitlin Casey - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!