Scientists have drawn up a so-called ‘planetary health diet’ detailing the optimal eating plan for protecting both human and planetary health.
If everyone were to follow the recommendations, red meat consumption would have to fall by around 50 per cent worldwide, but more than 80 per cent in developed countries like the UK and the US.
In addition to this, dairy and sugar consumption would also have to dramatically decrease worldwide. The proportion of vegetables, nuts, fruit and legumes – such as chickpeas – consumed would need to roughly double.
What would the meal plan look like?
The report, from the EAT-Lancet Commission laid out what a typical “planetary health plate” would look like, representing 2,500 calories of intake per day.
Half of the plate is made up of fruit and vegetables, around 500 grams, with whole grains such as rice, corn and wheat making up the next largest portion – roughly 811 calories per day.
Plant protein sources, like chickpeas, as well as unsaturated plant oils also make up a significant portion of the plate.
Dairy, animal protein (meat), added sugars and starchy veg should be kept to a minimum, according to the report. That would mean around one glass of milk per day, and just seven grams of red meat or pork – equivalent to less than two cocktail sausages. Just 1.5 eggs per week would be recommended.
Perhaps controversially to some proponents of the vegan lifestyle, the diet does not suggest totally cutting out meat or dairy, with the option to eat it in small quantities.
‘Meat should become a weekly or fortnightly treat’
If the diet was successfully implemented, it’s estimated that it could prevent around 11 million premature deaths a year while also minimising the damaging effects of climate change, species loss and deforestation.
“We are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Professor Tim Lang, one of the authors from City, University of London.
“We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances.”
The Eat-Lancet Commission brought together 37 experts from 16 countries specialising in sustainability, health, nutrition, economics and politics to develop the diet. They’ve stressed in the report that variations based on local availability, need and culture should be made, but in all cases meat would have to become a weekly or even fortnightly treat.
Shifting to sustainable food production requires less food waste and not giving any more land to agriculture – as is currently happening in the case of palm oil production and animal agriculture, for which rainforests are being destroyed.
The report’s authors suggest that livestock and fishing subsidies would need to end in order to successfully implement the diet. Marine conservation zones would have to be expanded, while encouraging shopping changes among populations would also be essential.